Of course the best way to manage presentation disasters is to avoid them in the first place.But the reality is they will happen.
- Technology will stop working.
- Your live demo will die.
- Your slides will somehow get out of order.
- You’ll forget what you were going to say.
- Your jokes will flop.
- Your audience won’t respond.
So what do you do in these situations?
Three Step Recovery
1. Don’t apologize. Don’t blame. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. There is nothing that makes you look less professional and looses respect from the audience more than apologizing or worse, blaming someone else for the failure. Your audience recognizes that these things happen. Heck, they probably have happened to them. They are not looking at the failure, but rather at how you handle it.
2. Pause. In place of letting your emotions get the best of you, take a moment. Pause and take a breath. Mentally assess the situation. Take the pause to: find your place in your notes; find the right slide; make a decision to go without the demo. The pause allows you to first gain control of your physical response to the perceived threat (i.e. the glitch) and then move to step 3.
3. Press on. As soon as possible, continue on with your talk. The less time you spend apologizing or freaking out and blaming others, the less attention the disaster will receive from the audience. And if the disaster is a literal show stopper, immediately close the talk and release your audience with a clear next step. The next step may be to reschedule this talk, or to take a break and come back when the problem is solved.
And now for the optimist’s point of view: There is nothing more powerful than a professional that can overcome an adversity. Think how much more influence you will have because you overcame a presentation disaster. The person who did not have a presentation disaster to overcome did not get to show their resilience.
We all experience presentation disasters. The trick is to not let the disaster control you. Life is uncertain and it’s how we handle this uncertainty that makes us professionals.