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What to do when things go wrong with your presentation

We can prepare and practice an excellent speech or presentation but things can still go wrong.

The good news is that there are ways to handle most situations that will help you to continue with your presentation and get a well-deserved round of applause at the end.

An issue can arise primarily from four situations:

Technical issues,

Questions & answer sessions,

Challenging audience members,

Brain freeze.

Technical issues.Even when you’ve arrived early to test your audio-visual (AV) setup it’s still possible for a glitch to occur. When this happens:

a. Calm breath. Breathe in slowly and exhale slowly for about 20 seconds. Allow the technical person space to solve the issue. Breathe, leave it to the AV person, move away, and detach.

b. Have your notes handy. If you don’t already do so make it a habit to have your notes printed out. Not only will you have a hand-out you’ll be able to deliver your speech without any slides.

c. Be authentic. Remember – research has shown that when you own your imperfections, people like you more. They have more empathy for you when things genuinely go wrong and they recognise you’re being your authentic self.

The Question & Answer session. Your presentation may have questions toward the end of the session, especially if it is an informative or business presentation. Two things may happen in the Q & A:

a. A silent audience. You may not get questions from the audience immediately. Pause, then ask the organiser to kick-off the Q & A session (you’ll have provided a couple in advance).

b. Objections. Answer the objections – these often trigger others to ask a relevant question. Never give control to the audience. You are the expert facilitator, so be sure to take the power back smoothly and seamlessly if someone attempts to highjack the Q & A.

Challenging audience Speakers must be able to handle and work the room. In a challenging situation, you can take back control with the reframing used by many Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioners.

For example:

a. The silent audience. They are silent, and there is very little interaction.
 Ask them easy questions which they can answer instinctively.

 Encourage them when they respond to you.

 Ask these questions using their first name and request all to participate.

b. The distracted audience if smart phones are too much in evidence…
 Create a hash tag (#) for your event. Ask the enthusiasts to promote it along with sharing the summary of the presentation and learnings; before after and during the break.

 Explicit instructions. If your message is critical provide an explicit instruction that all mobiles phones are put on silent mode or switched off during the presentation.

c. The Interrupter. We’ve all experienced individuals who interrupt you, correct you, heckle and grab all the attention.

 Hear them out. Politely take control back when the individual is pausing. Thank them for contributing and invite them on stage to pose their question for all the audience to hear. This may well silence them!

 No eye contact. Avoid eye contact with the interrupter. Only make eye-contact when you are giving them a cue to speak.

Brain Freeze. Despite lots of preparation, you might still have a moment of brain freeze. What do you do?

a) Don’t panic – Look down for a few seconds and look up. Smile at the audience. Smiling is contagious, and they will smile back. If you are on video, look directly at the lens so when people view the big screen, they will know you are smiling at them.

b) Pause – When you pause, you insert anticipation. Silence gets attention.

c) Take a sip of water – Always have a small water bottle with you during the presentation. It will be useful if the organiser forgets to provide one. Sipping helps relax your throat in times of stress and will buy you a few seconds when needed.

d) Notes – Refer to your notes so that you can recollect your thoughts to continue.

e) Breathe and carry on.

Presentations go wrong all the time; in fact I’d go as far to say as it’s a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’. So, keep the above advice in mind and you’ll be able to take back control!

Sudha Mani is from Toastmasters International a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. Visit: www.toastmasters.org @Toastmasters

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