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By Andy Sciarabba, P.E.

Side effects may include nausea, headache, upset stomach, loss of bladder control, or insomnia. Some people may experience certain sound effects: Gee, my voice is REALLY LOUD. Why am I talking in a vacuum? What is that echo… echo… echo? Am I having an out-of-body experience?

Sound familiar? Am I getting warmer?

I’m not, but you are. Your body temperature is starting to rise. More dreaded side effects are coming at you from all sides: dry mouth, sweaty upper lip, sweaty brow, achy legs, sweaty nether-regions (regions you didn’t even know existed).

OMG — have you taken the wrong medication? Are you having a stroke? Did you just shot-gun two Monster Energy drinks?

Nope, you have a presentation to make. A big, important public presentation.

But you’ve done this hundreds of times. What’s the big deal? You know your stuff. You dressed up all “purdy-like.” You trimmed those extraneous body hairs like your wife told you to. You bought a new shirt, maybe even slathered on some shmancy cologne like those 20-year-olds dip themselves in. Heck, you even donned a tie. Not just any tie, a Nature Conservancy tie with a cute dart-frog — a smart, green, sustainable gesture. What’s not to like?

Maybe no-one will show up. After all, it’s a nice summer night. Why would anyone waste their precious evening sitting in a rigid, ergonomically challenged, cold metal folding chair next to someone who believes stop-signs and bathing are optional. They should stay home and enjoy America’s Got Talent. Trust us, we got this. We are licensed for goodness sake!

You arrive early enough to get prepared. The lot is pretty empty. Hmmm…Am I at the right building? Read the sign: “Meeting moved to Fire House due to anticipated crowds and potential for human-induced lightning strikes. High probability for torch-wielding neighbors and fierce, fire-laden stares. May not be suitable for younger audiences.”

Now you’re late. You arrive just in time to nod, “Sorry I’m late. My dog ate my briefcase” to your client. Then you scan the room. My God — there are more people here than attended the Super Bowl.

No time for prep. You start to speak. Your hand shakes a bit and that dang tiny red dot from your $5 Walmart pointer slices across the screen like an Etch-a-sketch gone wild.

What if I blow it? What if I stumble? What if they don’t believe me?

Breathe. Calm yourself. It’s not about you. It’s nothing personal just business.

Look out at the crowd. Find a “friendly.” Find a neighbor (without a torch). Smile. Find someone who seems to actually understand your technical mumbo-jumbo. Ooh, that elderly gentleman to the right. He nodded his head like he gets it. Lock onto him. Now look to the left. Another “nodder”! Lock on to them too. Play mental tennis with both of them and only them. Finish with confidence. Finish with a smile and a few head nods of your own. Make everyone feel like they should get it.

Whew — The presentation is over. Now here come the questions. The easy part of the evening, right? Wrong!

Somehow all the questions seem like statements — condemning, disbelieving statements. Judgements of your character. It’s not about you. It’s nothing personal, just business.

Smile even more. Look the disbelievers in the eye and nod a little more. Nod in an “I feel your pain” way. Never make up an answer. Be honest. Promise to follow up.

Think of this as an opportunity to teach someone something new. Have fun with it. Maybe that someone is actually you.

Second whew — the meeting is really over. Now you can escape. Slink off in the shadows and evade the masses; avoid the pitchforks, spears, and daggers.

Nope — Find your worst critic. Re-introduce yourself. Smile. Let them know you respect their opinions.

Most of all, don’t forget: It’s nothing personal, just business.


Andy Sciarabba, P.E., is a principal with T.G. Miller, P.C., Engineers and Surveyors in Ithaca, N.Y. T.G. Miller, P.C. (www.tgmillerpc.com) is a consulting civil engineering and surveying firm that serves municipal, commercial, institutional, and private clients throughout central New York. He would like to know how you like “Diversions;” Please send him a note at ajs@tgmillerpc.com.

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