This past week, my co-worker Justin Etheredge, had such an experience. He has well documented his experience on his blog. I have to say that when he came back to work on Wednesday, I felt like I had let him down. I had previewed this presentation, given feedback, then re-previewed his revisions. I really felt like he had a good product to deliver.
Ok, so the first step to my recovery as a selfish presentation reviewer is to admit that I have a problem. I recognize that if the presenter feels like he had some level of failure, I should feel like I failed too (and I do feel that way).
Here was part of the problem with my review of Justin's material: he was preaching to the choir. Everything in his presentation, I agreed with. He and I talk about this material on a daily basis. We look at system design in very similar ways and are influenced by the same books and thought leaders. So when he does a presentation on simplicity in system design, I am going to be nodding my head in agreement the whole time. In fact, I am probably going to be excited that these ideas are being presented to new audiences.
This is no way to approach reviewing a presentation before someone goes before a user group or conference attendees. Reviewers should not attend a preview of a presentation as themselves, they should be putting themselves in the shoes of the intended audience. This is a fundamental principle of creating a presentation. In fact, I'm reading a chapter on this topic right now in Advanced Presentations by Design.
This seems like common sense as a third party. Of course you should consider the audience when you are creating a presentation. But this is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Removing yourself even further, it is very difficult to think in those terms when you are reviewing presentations.
So, going forward, I am really going to try to be more objective when I review presentations. Also, I am going to try to understand who the audience of the presentation is going to be. I should be content with learning from my co-workers while we are talking and working together. When I am reviewing their presentations I should be reviewing their presentations.