The one where I have diarrhea during my own keynote

By Devon Hennig

Boardroom Confidential is a collection of wild-but-true stories from the careers of me and my friends.


We’d rehearsed our presentation down to every smile and click of the PowerPoint remote. We’d even brought extra batteries. After all, it was our make-or-break keynote and we’d traveled all the way to New York to deliver it at the top conference in our space.

While in NYC, we thought it would be a good idea to host a VIP event before the big day. You know, make the most out of the week. Why not? We were already in town. It made sense to squeeze more value out of the trip.

So the night before the keynote, we rented out a rooftop bar.

Picture all the top-shelf booze you could drink.

All the food you could eat.

Breathtaking views of the city.

Since John and I wanted to be sharp for our presentation the next day, we decided to keep our alcohol consumption to two drinks max. Instead of boozing, we spent the evening rubbing elbows and eating. And eating. Aaaaand eating. As guests left, they told us they’d had a great time.

The first part of our New York plan was a success.

Until it wasn’t.

There’s nothing quite like waking up with the cold sweats.

It feels like your body is screaming, “ALERT! Gimme heat! Gimme ice! Gimme water! Wait, don’t give me water! I DON’T KNOW WHAT I NEED!”

Realizing my insides were about to betray me, I stumbled to the bathroom of the hotel suite that I was sharing with John…but the door was locked. Because, apparently, John’s insides were doing the same to him.

“Devon?” I heard John say from inside the bathroom. “I think I’m about to—”

He didn’t finish his sentence. The sounds that followed were horrific, and I knew I’d be the next to make them.

We had a mean case of food poisoning.

Even worse? Our keynote was less than 5 hours away.

For the next two hours, John and I took turns in the bathroom. I’ll spare you the details, but if toilets could talk, that one would need New York’s best therapist.

We somehow managed to shower and suit up, but we were shaky husks of the men we’d hoped to be. In the car to the conference, our stomachs ached and rumbled. After what seemed like years, we arrived at the Sheraton, sprinted to the bathroom, and, quite frankly, exploded.

Meanwhile, the conference began.

We weren’t slated to speak until ten, so for two excruciating hours, we tried to appear calm, cool, and confident as we tag teamed the bathroom and pictured our future: Diarrhea. On stage. In front of everyone in our industry. So much had already gone down the toilet that day, and we knew our careers would be next.

Finally, the conference producers called us into the wings.

As we followed them, I took a swig of water just as John looked out at the audience and then turned to me and said…

“Careful. The chairs on stage are white.”

The next twenty minutes were an out-of-body experience.

I remember the curtains parting.

I remember stepping into the spotlight.

And then all I remember is the feeling of my sickness dissipating as nerves gave way to pure, positive energy.

John, however, pooped everywhere.

Kidding. He was riding the same high as me.

Together, we radiated enthusiasm. We were like Michael Jordan in game five of the ’97 NBA finals: flu-stricken, dehydrated, barely seeing straight, but somehow performing better than ever. We were fully alive and grateful to present to industry titans without shitting our pants even a little. It was a miracle. Even before the crowd applauded, John and I knew we’d delivered. We later heard people say it was the best talk at the conference, and we got more leads than we’d hoped for.

That day I learned about the importance of over preparing for presentations. If you know your shit, there’s no amount of shit that can get in your way — literally.

Devon Hennig

Devon Hennig is a writer, marketer, and ex-game-show host. He quit his job as a software executive to make a go of it on his own. Follow along as he tries not to go broke.

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