leader stupid embarrassed mortified oh no

I have done some fairly stupid shit throughout my career … this was one.





Here I am at the Valvoline national sales meeting. If you ever want a high energy, high no-nonsense, high everything experience, combine motor oil (or automotive anything) with sales and you get a wild time.




I was giving some presentation on the effect of branding on sales. I was in my mid-late 20’s and a vice president managing the Valvoline advertising business. The room was slow to fill (as early morning-somewhat hungover-less than thrilled with the topic-attendees can do) so I thought I would take the opportunity to share my skills with projection animals (aka, shadow puppets).


I started off with the easy one. The rabbit. (Fist with victory sign).


Moved on to next level.


The birds. (two hands interlocked at thumb web and wave the hands slightly).


Ah. But then as the last of the seats were being filled I closed with the coup de gras of projection animals.


the fuck question fucking stupidE.T. with an erection.


(make a fist slightly curl fist at the wrist. Hold forearm with fist sideways against projector. Take other hand with one finger extended- anyone will do – and slide it out across the lower part of the forearm).


Needless to say the last one brought the house down.

Needless to say the presentation was a smashing success (not sure anyone remembered anything other than E.T., but everyone left happy).



I fly home. Get a good night of rest. Get to work next day. Maybe in the afternoon the head of the office (my boss’s boss) sticks his head in my office.



(the dialogue)

“How was sales meeting?”


“Great. Tiring. You know how the Valvoline boys can be.”






“So. Is there anything you want to tell me?”


(Me. Having had maybe 8 hours sleep over 3 nights and having consumed probably an entire bar’s worth of beer) “Um. Nope.”


“Anything about the presentation?”


“Nope. I think it went well” (Honestly having forgotten the projection animals because it was so insignificant in my ‘oh so mature’ mind).


“Well. I got a call. Apparently you did something inappropriate as a representative of the company.” (Oops).


“Carl – an executive VP at Valvoline – was sitting in the back row and thought what you did was extremely inappropriate.” (Uh oh)


“Look … what you did was in poor judgment. So don’t do it again. (okay.)


“But more importantly. Why did you do it? Did your presentation need it? If so…we need to send you to a presentation class so you can get better at presenting. You don’t need stunts like that with a good presentation. I think you are a better presenter than that. Think about it. See ya.”






Was it poor judgment on my part? Yeah. Most likely.


Did it appeal to my audience? You bet (except that one curmudgeonly executive).


Did I need to do it to get them to listen? Nope. It was a cheap trick. A stunt to get everyone to listen to me. And frankly if you need something like that you shouldn’t be presenting. I don’t like presenters who use stunts upfront under the guise of “breaking the ice”. Maybe now I am a curmudgeon (and became so after the projection animal affair) but since “the animal affair” I have tried to open a presentation with something topical, relevant and thoughtful.


I guess everyone should do what’s right for them. But jokes/stunts/tricks upfront are 90% of the time detrimental (at least from what I have seen and experienced) to where you need to go in a presentation.


Why invest the energy? But hey. I am the guy who did an E.T. projection animal.


So. Other lessons?


Well now you know how to make projection animals.presentation asleep


And I guess titles do mean something. Even if you are lucky to get some responsibility and fancy shmancy title at a relatively young age, you have to realize some expectations come along with it. Like maybe some maturity. Not a lesson a 20-something guy likes. Or any 20-something I assume.


It did teach me to be a little more thoughtful with regards to my actions.


Growing up, maturing, in business is an evolution with some revolutionary moments to jump-start your growth.




Valvoline people are tied with another company as the best people and best company I have ever been able to work with. An amazing high energy high pain-in-the-ass but worth every second group.

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Written by Bruce