I think this story is better on the audio version.
I’ve had reports of playback bugs for people using PCs/Chrome browser, if that’s you go over to Spotify. Old-school player at bottom of article.
Medieval Superstition Lives On
Before you can do a great presentation, you must do presentations so horrifying you leave the room and Google “how to get witness protection-style new identity”.
Let me share the time I took the gold in the Crash & Burn event at the presentation Olympics.
But first, for some context, let’s look at the formulaic world of meeting banter.
Medieval superstition lurks just below the surface of modern folk. You’ll be heading off on a trip and they’ll say, “Have a safe flight.”
Because deep down they believe it’s against the laws of nature for humans to fly.
I’ve worked with aviation insurance clients, and watched actuaries prove that being on a commercial flight is the safest place you can be.
Being high in the sky, strapped in, watching movies and eating too much, stops you falling off ladders, being eaten by your pets, dying of an infected paper cut and all the other things that take a surprising toll of human life.
Not being on a plane is dangerous. But facts will never beat feelings and reptilian instincts.
Post-flight, people always have to ask you how it was, like you’ve just jumped the Grand Canyon on a rocket skateboard. It’s hard to bring an interesting answer given each flight is largely the same.
So How Was Your Flight?
We had won an epic rebranding project. My job was to find a single word exciting enough to replace the founders’ names for a merger of global services firms. Design guy Andrew the Scouser and I had circled the globe twice, spending weeks on end researching the routines and challenges of engineering professionals.
Every single conversation we had through the whole caper started with: “How was your flight?”
Good thanks. By the end we had developed an exciting brand and done lots of behind-the-scenes lobbying between the Americans, Australians, Kiwis, Chinese and British to get it over the finish line.
All that remained was a final presentation at the global partners’ meeting in Sydney, though it was a high-risk event. Their constitution needed unanimous approval. A single “no” vote could kill all our work.
Repetition, relentless travel and too much hotel lobby bar time had pushed Andrew and I into a mental twilight zone. Our eyeballs were rotating like psychedelic pinwheels. Our flight from the US landed in Sydney at 6:05 am. The meeting was scheduled for 10am.
The Wheels Come Off
You know those flights where the plane pulls up to the gate and everyone jumps up expectantly, but the plane is just slightly off the airbridge, so you have to wait half an hour standing hunchbacked under the overhead lockers? That happened.
So I had a lot of time to examine the back of the head of the guy standing in front of me.
He had an old-school hair transplant, a checkerboard plug forest. I noticed that if I moved my head from side to side, I got that animation effect you see when you drive past managed pine plantations. I became as hypnotised by this spectacle as any toad-licking stoner.
After fifteen minutes we finally escaped the plane, cabbed to the meeting, and started setting up our presentation. One of the interstate partners had already arrived.
“How was your flight?”
As I shuffled the PowerPoint deck, I thought: glad you asked! Eyes on my laptop, I gave him the full story, full of flourishes and witty asides.
Hair transplants are great comedy fodder.
They go to the core of the male mindset, with all its deluded vanity and futile attempts to stop the march of time.
I finished with: “So at least I got a cool story out of the flight, that hardly ever happens, eh?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Back when I was 25 I started losing my hair, pretty young for that to happen, tough time. So I got it done.”
I looked at his forehead. All the air sucked out of the room. Oh. My. Fucking. God. Yes, he had the full plantation, just with curlier implants that hid the roots better.
“Ah yes, I see you did,” I said.
That was the best I had.
There was no magic set of words to dig me out of that pit. We both paused and looked out the window in that “now we’ll both pretend this never happened” way you do.
He was remarkably civil for the rest of the day, all things considered, and voted in favor of our concept.
It was better than I deserved.
Lifetime note to self: when someone asks you how the flight was, you say:
“Good thank you.”
And stop right there, fool.
Have you bought my book Undisruptable? You should. Listen to Booktopia reviewer Stef, who says:
Like a new fave movie, this book is one you’ll want to start again so you can quote all the one-liners and take in all the detail. And then dream of the next episode. Somehow this book’s advice has slipped into my life as I was distracted laughing; my behaviour changed, results better and satisfaction easier to achieve. I’ve been to all the seminars, had stacks of coaching, read all the books, but at the end of the day this is THE one that puts words into action, because you WANT to. Not told to. I just cant WAIT for the sequel.
Thanks Stef you are too kind! Be like Stef, buy it here.
It’s also in audiobook with me reading it:
Audio version of this story: