What Should You Do When Things Go Wrong in Your Presentation?
“Many attempts to communicate are nullified by saying too much.” – Robert Greenleaf
We all have to perform sometime in our lives. Whether it is a presentation, the school spelling bee, the high jump, or a million other possible things, we are not perfect. Because we are not perfect, we will have problems in our performances from time to time
There is a great saying I heard, “It is not how far you Fall, it is how high you bounce.” Can you use this sentiment in your presentations and other areas of your life? You bet you can!
Below we will discuss what do you do when things go wrong in your presentation, but realize that the words below pertain to driving a car, singing the solo in your church’s choir, or asking the love of your life to marry you!
I remember a T-shirt that was given to my daughter and the other musicians in her elementary school band. The T-Shirt said, “Remain Calm and Play On!” What a great saying. When you encounter problems in your presentation, do you remain calm and carry on? If you do, you are in a small minority.
One of my mentors from his audio programs, Earl Nightingale, says, “Fully 92% of worries are about things that happened in the past we have no control over or things that never happen.” Believe it or not!
Now certainly, problems can occur in your presentation, but the vast majority of them will not be noticed by your audience until you tell them. So, don’t tell them!
I published an article a few weeks ago called, “Don’t Fall Into the Apology Trap .” In this article, I mentioned the propensity presenters have for apologizing for a faux pas their presentation. You, as a speaker, have no obligation to point out the problems in your presentation. In fact, the hard truth is your audience does not care about the problems in your presentation.
I give a seminar on child sexual abuse awareness and prevention two to three times a year. I encountered a circumstance yesterday in a session that would throw most speakers. The seminar starts at 9:00 a.m. I am usually there by 8:00 a.m. to set up the room and review my notes.
When I arrived at the venue, I discovered the room was mistakenly booked and would not be open until 8:45 a.m. I also noticed the meeting room for the previous meeting was set up with tables in a U-shaped configuration. I usually have audience seating with chairs in rows and an aisle down the center. I assured the sponsor we could work something out. I thought, let’s keep the configuration the way it is. It will stimulate more discussion. The audience did not know I usually have audience seating. The session turned out to be one of the best sessions I have ever had.
Panicking actually retards your thinking process. When you remain calm, your tendency will be to think of solutions and not the problem.
Try this. When a problem occurs in your presentation, first pause, take a deep breath and then remember how you planned to recover in your preparation for your presentation. More on this in the next section.
Practice Recovery Before Your Presentation
When I was in the U.S. Air Force, we had a saying, “We train the way we fight and fight the way we train.” Have you seen the “Top Gun” movie with Tom Cruise? You may remember the aerial dogfight scenes. They were pretty realistic. Think about the reactions pilots have to have to flight safely, perform their mission, and then return to base safely. Prior to any mission, pilots practice what can go wrong and how they will react to the situation. We as speakers need to do the same.
When colonels and generals plan a battle, they think of everything that could happen and what their response will be if it does. In other words, in war games or, at least, on paper, they have thought of every mishap that can happen and have a response for each and every mishap.
Now what does “Top Gun” and going into battle have to do with your presentations? It has everything to do with your presentations. The lesson from the last two paragraphs is for you to think of all the things that can go wrong during your presentation and what you will do when they happen. It is great to think about your responses to problems, but it is even better to play act them out during your presentation. This is the whole reason for the U.S. Navy’s “Top Gun” and the U.S. Air Force’s Fighter Weapons schools.
So what can go wrong? Well, for one, your computer with your slides may go kaput. What will you do if you have no visuals? One thing you can do is go right into an group exercise which will give you time to recover from the blank computer.
The microphone may not work and you will have to shout out your presentation so the guy in the last row can hear you. What will you do? maybe go into the center of the audience and do your presentation from their so you won’t have to shout as loud.
Finally, and there are many more things that can go wrong, what if you have a terrible cold that has settled into your larynx and you can barely speak. What will you do? Ensure a microphone is available and working so you don’t have to try to shout.
It is better to think and play act all these mishaps before your presentation to prepare responses to them.
So we have talked about staying calm during problems with your presentation. Remember, the audience doesn’t know there has been a mishap and if they did, they would not care about it.
We have also talked about practicing recovery from presentation mishaps during your preparation for your presentation. Let’s now talk about what to do in the unlikely, but possible, occurrence when you audience realizes there is a problem in your presentation.
In the Rare Case Where your Audience Discovers the Problem
I was attending a National Speakers Association Washington DC Chapter meeting a number of months ago and was listening to a great speaker when his computer projection went blank. This problem could not be covered up. So what do you think the speaker did? He immediately gave us an appropriate exercise to do which gave him the time to fix the computer projection problem.
Do you think the speaker on the spur of the moment thought to give us an exercise? No. That exercise was planned for a mishap, in this case, the computer projection going blank.
If you are witty and the audience notices the problem, you may even make a joke about it like, “The screen was too bright for me anyway. I needed some blank screen time.” OK, so it sounds corny, but corny is OK with most audiences. At least it gets them laughing and enjoying themselves. I will take audiences enjoying themselves any day.
If you are into corny jokes, you may want to say, “For those who don’t like corny jokes, it is my policy to keep saying them until I get maximum applause.” If this doesn’t get you rousing applause, I don’t know what will.
My main point here is there are many ways to recover from a problem in your presentation noticed by the audience. One of the best ways is humor. Humor about yourself is the most prized by audiences. Humor about others will get you indignation from your audience and no referrals from them.
So what have we learned today?
We learned if you “Remain Calm and Play On” you will recover and have a good if not great performance.
We also learned if you plan recoveries to the possible mishaps in your presentations, you will instinctively invoke the backup plan when bad things happen in your presentations.
Finally, you learned some techniques on how to recover when the audience does know there is a problem in your presentation.
So, when things go wrong in your presentation, be confident to know you have already rehearsed your recovery!
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein
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