Lessons Learned From RSS Ray

This is a copy of the letter I asked my friend Brian Offenberger to draft about the lessons learnt from a situation that led him to share a copy of one of my presentations.

“The recent situation with Bryan Eisenberg concerning my duplication of his material in one of my presentations was quite a learning experience.

I walked into my office Monday afternoon, only to be greeted by an associate saying there was a firestorm of activity on the internet claiming I copied parts of a presentation by Bryan.

I immediately did two things within 5 minutes of hearing about the situation:

  • Searched for Bryan’s presentation online to check for similarities
  • Called Bryan to apologize for what was happening

The only thing I could find online concerning Bryan’s presentations were blogger’s summaries of it.  Bryan was not available to take my call.

It was apparent though from blogger summaries the similarities between presentations were more than coincidental.  They were alike.

I then immediately posted to the thread on Bryan’s Facebook page.  It was quite a long thread of people responding to Bryan’s question about what they would do if a friend ripped off their material.  I posted my response, informing Bryan I was trying to reach him.  This happened within about 10 minutes of me becoming aware of the issue and buzz surrounding it.

I continued to search for Bryan’s presentation online to compare it with mine for similarities.  I couldn’t find it.

I then posted a comment on Bryan’s Facebook page (which was about 45 minutes into my knowledge of what was happening).  My comment responded to the questions raised by comments on Bryan’s Facebook page.  My posting simply stated that I would not knowingly claim Bryan’s work as my own and that I was investigating how the duplication occurred.

That posting seemed to stop the negative comments about me on Bryan’s Facebook page (with one exception).

I then began to read in detail the numerous blogger summaries about Bryan’s presentation.  The consistency in the summaries made it clear that my presentation contained duplicated portions of Bryan’s.  At this time however, I was still unsure how this duplication happened.

Upon further research, I found that Bryan had delivered his presentation just a few times.  One of these times however was during an online presentation January 7 for Market Motive.  Bryan’s presentation on this day was the source material for my duplication.

Although there were no slide copies of Bryan’s presentation available any where online, one of my staff member’s had attended Bryan’s January 7 performance.  This staff member was one of two I use that help me prepare presentations and speeches I deliver.  I mistook their learning notes from Bryan’s presentation as working notes for one we were preparing.  The result was a duplication of Bryan’s material in my presentation, without proper attribution or permissions from him.

Within 4 hours of learning of this situation, and after investigating it, I wrote a detailed email to Bryan.  In it, I apologized for the situation.  I assured him the duplication was not malicious or intentional.  I asked for his forgiveness and outlined to him the actions I would take to rectify the situation.

It was well after 11pm East Coast time on the day of the event.  I drafted a statement of apology to Bryan to place on our blog.

Bryan emailed me early the next morning, saying he was tied up but would be calling.

I sent Bryan my public statement of apology.  I placed it on my blog, removed my version of the presentation in question from public access and placed a comment on the thread concerning the issue on Bryan’s Facebook page.

I continued to pursue speaking with Bryan.  I felt it important to discuss with him my actions, intentions, and remorse.  He was most gracious during the conversation, even asking me to elaborate on this situation and what I learned from it.

The learning experiences have been many.

I had the importance of checking and re-checking work re-taught to me in the most painful of ways.  I had input from 2 of my staff members on the presentation containing Bryan’s work.  In my haste in running my small business, I got in a hurry and didn’t have either of my associates check the final product.  That was a critical mistake, one I will never make again.

We’re clearly labeling “learning notes” from “working notes” in my office.  Learning notes are notes we take when researching something or attending a lecture.  As we host a weekly radio show and twice a month webinar series, we’re often taking notes for content purposes.  Working notes are internally developed source documents, ones we can rightly claim as our own.  Our belief is labeling can help avoid potential problems.

I’m also personally researching online any presentation I do prior to delivery.  Although I know my intentions to be honorable, and I trust those that help me prepare, this situation has taught me you can never be too careful.  The thing that’s really critical is to research a topic online prior to actually delivering it.  At my business, we do marketplace research prior to developing presentation topics to avoid duplications.  The flaw with my approach is it may be three months or longer from concept to completion and lots can happen during that time.  A re-check is prudent and necessary and that check will be done by me.

It’s important to respond quickly.  I knew that.  My mother taught me as a kid that’s it’s never too early to right a wrong.

I learned to do a better job in filing preparation materials relating to the presentations I do.  In the past when I’ve finished a speech or presentation, I’ve often destroyed the notes and reference materials to avoid clutter and save on space.  This situation has taught me the importance of keeping those notes for a reasonable period as one never knows when they may be needed.

This situation also reinforced the importance to me to focus on what is happening in a crisis, not why it is happening to me.  To dwell on my honorable intentions and concerns about how this happened wasn’t helping Bryan.  To focus on what I was going to do about it would bring value to the situation.  I feel it best to focus on resolution rather than dwell on “why me?”

I got comments from many.  As one might expect, those that know me were supportive.  Those that don’t were vicious.  I learned that many speakers receive staff assistance in preparing presentations and speeches.  Several wrote of their concern about one day facing a situation similar to mine.

Finally, I had re-enforced the importance of the telephone in today’s business world.  It’s amazing the understandings people can reach during a good, sincere call.

RSS Ray, CeM

(a/k/a) Brian Offenberger, CeM

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