PowerPoint Happy Hour is Not an Oxymoron
Last night, I attended a “PowerPoint Happy Hour” networking event. If the concepts of “Power Point” and “happy hour” seem incompatible to you, stick with me.
The PowerPoint Happy Hour is the brainchild of Minna Taylor, a presentation coach and the founder of Energize Your Voice, a company that works with individuals and companies to improve their communication and presentation skills.
At the event, willing participants put their name in a bucket. If your name is pulled, you take the stage to do a 5–7 minute presentation using a randomly selected PowerPoint that someone created for a real presentation. You do not get to see the deck before you start. And its happy hour. So drinking is involved.
When my friend Summer Rose told me about this, I thought it was a brilliant idea. Not only did I want to go to see the spectacle, I wanted to be selected to give a presentation. In fact, I would have paid extra to guarantee I could do a presentation.
Why would I want to do this?
Pushing My Edge
Beyond the practical reasons to embrace this activity — it’s a fun way to hone presentation and public speaking skills — I like to push my edge. Consistently pushing the edge is how we expand our comfort zone and grow.
Delivering a presentation with another person’s slide deck felt like exactly the type of uncomfortable activity that falls into my zone at the corner of This will be Awesome and WTF was I thinking?
I secretly love that moment when I start to wonder if I’ve stepped into something too big for me, if maybe this time I’ll meet my edge. It tells me I’m alive and growing.
For me, PowerPoint Happy Hour was a perfect stretch. I love speaking to people, but I typically don’t speak with slides. The slides make me uncomfortable.
Of course, I can push my edge by giving a real presentation with my own slides. But that would be missing an element that I found last night, and that I’ve found in other activities I do.
Growth Requires Exposing the Weak Muscles
Growth isn’t just about pushing your edges. Even consistently pushing your edge can become safe after a while. You can end up strengthening muscles that are already strong; it’s like adding more weights or reps to your existing exercises.
Growth requires another element: the willingness to fail.
Failure exposes the muscles that aren’t as strong and gives you the opportunity to strengthen what is weak.
I didn’t always have this mindset.
For most of my life I was a perfectionist, especially in intellectual and emotional endeavors. I embraced the risk in a physical activity, but didn’t want to risk “getting it wrong” in academics or work.
The thought of failure can be paralyzing and terrifying.
What would it feel like to have the freedom to fail at something? How would it feel to do something and legitimately suck at it?
Not just this is a little stretch for me. Or this makes me a little uncomfortable. But actually, legitimately sucking at it. Face plant. Bombing.
I wondered whether I could shift my identity around perfectionism and failure, the same way I shifted my identity to stop hitting snooze in the morning. Why should this be different from any other behavior change?
In slow steps over time I started taking little risks. Live videos. Publishing to my blog more. Sharing more pieces of my experience. Stand-up comedy.
The Price of Freedom
All freedom comes at a price. The price we pay for the freedom to fail is a risk to the ego. You may find out you’re not as great as you imagined yourself to be.
This is what I learned at PowerPoint Happy Hour.
I generally believe I’m great on the spot. I am typically never at a loss for things to say. I was hoping that my name would get pulled — and it did.
That’s not self-criticism. I’m not judging it. I’m just seeing it for what it is.
I felt awkward and uncomfortable and like I was disconnected from the audience.
I sucked. And it was ok.
More than ok. It was liberating.
Failure on the stage exposed my weakness. Perhaps I’m not as great on the spot as I imagined myself to be. I fall into the trap of slides. Now I know where I need to focus my skill development. I see where the gaps are in my skills and I can fill them.
This is the tradeoff in embracing the freedom to fail: you take the risk that you will expose your weakness. At the same time, exposing the weakness is the goal. It lets you see where you can strengthen your skills.
What I Learned
The fear of exposing yourself to be less than what you think you are is a prison that traps you in the illusion of growth and mastery. If you want true freedom, you must give yourself permission to suck.
There is no greater freedom than the freedom to fail.
What’s your relationship to failure? Please share in the comments.