Doing without

I had an interesting experience at Next Step Toastmasters today. I had signed myself up to “Sell a Product”, which was supposed to be a 10–12 minute talk. I decided to sell a real product, 1Password, which solves real problems for me.

I verified that a projector would be available, and I built a copiously-illustrated PowerPoint deck, even including a short screencast demonstrating how to log in to the Toastmasters member site using 1Password. I was set.

Until I arrived at the meeting, when I found out that getting a projector and screen from the venue would cost the club $150 (yes, we meet in a hotel!), and that it wasn’t going to happen. I decided to press on anyway, and got up to speak as scheduled.

Needless to say, I had to rework my talk substantially; instead of relying on slides, I had to paint pictures in the minds of my audience. That meant that I had to use magic words like “imagine” and “consider”, instead of showing them exactly what I meant.

And then, long before I expected it, the timer showed the green light, indicating I only had two minutes to go. I sped up my delivery and got through my critical points, leaving the audience with a call to action just as my time expired. I left the stage to applause (as expected – everyone gets applause at a Toastmasters’ meeting!) and sat down.

At the break a few minutes later, the timer apologized to me; he hadn’t noticed the “10–12 minutes” on the agenda and had given me the green light in accordance with the timing for a normal speech, at 5 minutes, not 10.

I was surprised when my evaluator said that I’d met all of my objectives, and that I’d convinced him to buy 1Password, even though he didn’t know he had a password problem before my speech! And several other people told me they were going to buy it, too. One person even praised me for spending so much of my time looking at the problem rather than focusing on the product I was selling; she said it made me more effective and more believable.

The time I spent putting together the PowerPoint presentation wasn’t wasted; it forced me to think through my material. But I was better off not being able to use it – that forced me to connect with my audience instead of hiding in front of my slides. And doing without 5 minutes of my time slot made me step up my game in real time – though if I’d been using my slides, I would have been in trouble.

Next time, though, I wouldn’t mind if things went according to plan.