My Apology to Dr. Michael Haynie

January 26, 2014

UseI am the producer of TEDxUniversityofNevada. Our most recent event was Friday, January 24, 2014. Our speakers and my team did a great job, and the event was a big success.

Yet there was one failure. Dr. Michael Haynie was delivering a brilliant talk about our nation’s veterans when his slides began to advance without his control. He recovered and finished strong, but this unexpected problem with his slides disrupted his presentation.

It’s irrelevant how the unexpected automatic transition made it into his slides because it was my responsibility to check the final product. Our team’s core principle was “we will not fail our speakers”; however, I failed Dr. Michael Haynie and my team. We will fix it when we edit the video of his talk, but it was an avoidable mistake.

Mike, I am truly very sorry.

I told our speakers and my team that if a problem occurred we would stop the show. In the heat of the moment, I did not follow my own rules. I should have stopped the show and let Dr. Haynie start over. I also should have taken the stage that day and publicly apologized to Dr. Haynie, my team, and our audience.

This chain of events was a systemic failure that manifest itself in my behavior both before and during the event. I made myself responsible for holding my team accountable for performing their designated roles, but I did not make anyone responsible for holding me accountable. This is a fundamental leadership principle that I profess but am still working on implementing in my own life.

We have a lot of shared responsibility built into all of our team roles, but next year we will build in even more. What happened to Dr. Michael Haynie will never happen again, and by addressing the underlying root cause of that broken system, I’m convinced we will improve all of our processes.

I have an amazing team of volunteers that works very hard to organize and execute an impressive TEDxUniversityofNevada. They deserved better from me. Moving forward, we will continue to improve our processes and raise our expectations of each other.

Stay tuned for TEDxUniversityofNevada 2015!

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Comments (21)

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  1. His talk was indeed incredibly inspiring. You were in such pain when this happened that I hurt for you. We will all be sharing his work with others – because it had such an impact on everyone.

    YOU, Dr. Bret, make a difference. And it turns out that you can make a difference and not be perfect.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. We learn from you.


    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    You know we work hard to help our speakers look great, so I was devastated for Mike. He is a very gracious man. Thanks for all your help that day!!! Bret

  2. Paul Kiser says:

    Dr. Bret:

    You are not going to win the ‘Richard Sherman Award’ by taking responsibility for a problem!

    I’m sorry you had an issue during the event. I’m also sorry I missed the TEDEx event. I had intended to go, but I kept putting off registering until it was too late. (I actually thought the TEDEx talks were yesterday. My apologies for not putting the event higher on my priority list, but that is my loss.

    Congratulations on pulling together a complex and significant event.


    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    It was a great event, Paul. Get your tickets early next year! Bret

    Paul Kiser Reply:

    I will. Let me know when you set the date.

    I like the concept of the TEDEx talks. It is the sharing of great information for the sake of understanding more about our world around us. No hidden agenda, no marketing ploy, no tricks.

    See you at Starbucks!


  3. Alice Heiman says:

    Dr. Bret,
    You are a true leader and a gem among all the people that I know. Your apology was heartfelt. I know the team will produce a high quality video from the moving talk that Michael gave. I am proud to be on your team.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    We are fortunate to have you on the team! Thanks, Alice.

  4. Dr. Bret,
    As your closing speaker for TEDx 2014, you held great expectations of us, your team and yourself to create the perfect experience for all stake holders. I was there during this issue you are speaking on. As a professional speaker who has been on hundreds of stages around our globe, things do happen and systems do crash. I have had that happen with the most experienced production companies running my shows. There are hundreds of moving components, and any combination can result in some form of barrier or another. It is not about the setbacks, but true leadership is about the recovery when all contingencies go haywire. Your apologies to the TED community is acknowledged and appreciated, but there are certain things that will be beyond human control. Learn the lessons that were given but do not beat yourself up. Working with you and your team has been one of the delights of my career. All the things you and your team did correct out way this technical issue. This reminds us of our human-es and makes us all authentic. TEDx 2014 in Reno, NV is one of my highlights of my 20 year speaking career, and it is because of you and your team. Your day touched lives and was incredible doing exactly what you set out to achieve. And it is this success and contribution that you will always be remembered for.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    You are very kind, Neal, and a class act. We sincerely appreciate all you did for us. Thanks! Bret

    Alice Heiman Reply:

    What a pleasure to have the opportunity to meet you. Thank you for your kind words. You are right, as a speaker myself, I have also seen this type of thing happen to no fault of anyone. It comes with the territory.

    My husband was thrilled to get the signed copy of your book. Please keep in touch.


    Kristin Stith Reply:

    Neal- beautifully said!!! Thank you!

  5. Bret,

    My high-level of respect for you just skyrocketed. You are a true class act and every single person has a lesson to learn from your message. Thank you for being transparent, thank you for being a mentor, thank you for being so genuinely human.

    In regards to Dr. Haynie’s message- it was FANTASTIC. I was sitting in the crowd, and although I felt for him, he recovered well and I still heard his message very loud and clear. He was in fact, one of my favorite speakers. So important.

    I am proud to call you my friend, former professor, and mentor. Thank you for setting such an incredible example, not just now, but all the time.


    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I appreciate your very kind and generous remarks, Kristin. YOU are a class act! Thanks, Bret

  6. Zanny Marsh says:

    I’m going to print and frame this. It will hang in my office for the rest of my career.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Zanny. Thanks for sharing. Bret

  7. Robert Lee says:

    Your reference to a systemic failure, root cause and permanent corrective actions demonstrate your true commitment to ensuring the problem will not recur. Additionally, your acknowledgement of sole responsibility as the team leader provides a fine example of leadership that is seldom witnessed. How refreshing it is to see this behavior in public.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Robert. I appreciate your thoughts. Bret

  8. Carolyn Bivens says:

    Your post is the most public, authentic, inspirational example of character and leadership in action I’ve seen. Our organizations and institutions would be more productive in much healthier environments if leaders followed your example. How different might the last few years have been if responsibility and vulnerability had been practiced at the top of our financial organizations, in the White House and both houses of Comgress?!

    Thank you for leading with compassion and character. Let’s hope the concept is contagious.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Carolyn. I appreciate your thoughts and very kind words. Bret

  9. Bruce Lynn says:

    Not sure you have trackbacks on your blog –

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Thanks, Bruce!