Whether you’re a new or experienced speaker, it’s likely that the thought of a mishap during your presentation sends shivers down your spine. Or makes you feel slightly nauseous. We’ve all been there in one way or another, and while you can’t prepare for everything or prevent the unpreventable, how you handle it determines how successful your presentation will ultimately be.
We recently asked some industry professionals to tell us about something that went wrong in a presentation, and then how they handled it. Some are funny, some are cringe-worthy, and others are downright bizarre. Many snafus involved tech issues, while others centered on unruly audience members or natural occurrences.
The situation: The projector doesn’t work, nobody has the correct connecting cable to your computer (or theirs), there’s no computer (and you were told to only bring a USB flash drive), etc. This is the most common type of snafu.
How to handle it: Prepare, prepare, prepare. Among the pro responses:
- Have a presentation kit with you for every single presentation — your own projector, your laptap, your presentation on a flash drive (as well as stored in the cloud), your own microphone, and every connecting cable you can think of.
- If it’s a smaller group and the projector won’t work, many presenters have shown their presentation on their laptop. Not ideal, but it can work.
- Microphone goes out? Project your voice and speak to the back of the room.
- If all your problem-solving fails, turn the presentation into a Q & A! Audiences love that. “You know what? We’re going to pivot here and turn this into a Q & A — hit me up with your questions about roses!”
The situation: Someone in the audience continually asks questions, wants to dominate the conversation or the Q & A, brings politics into their comments, or is otherwise rude.
How to handle it: The pros are united on this one — do not let an audience member hijack your presentation. It’s not fair to the rest of the audience. Stay in control, be firm, and keep your cool. Humor also helps. Some responses to memorize:
- “That’s a great question! Unfortunately, it’s out of the scope of what we’re talking about today, so I can’t speak to that. Anyone else have a question?”
- “I’m mindful of the time we have together right now — come find me after the presentation and we can talk more.”
- “Oh, there’s not enough time to get into that today!” *laugh*
- If all else fails and someone is out of control, firmly ask the venue volunteer to assist you. “Can I get some assistance in removing this person? I need to continue with my presentation.” Then refocus and move on.
YOUR NERVES GET THE BEST OF YOU
The situation: You feel anxious (maybe even an anxiety attack ahead of time), you’re super nervous, you “mess up” during your presentation, your voice quivers.
How to handle it: Nerves get to everyone from time to time, and these tips may help you out:
- Be thoroughly familiar with your presentation, even going as far as to memorize it.
- Get adequate sleep the night before.
- Avoid alcohol the night before if that tends to make you more anxious.
- Visualize yourself doing GREAT.
- Speak loudly — this can counteract the butterflies.
- Make a joke — when everyone laughs, you’ll feel like you’re in this together.
- Take a deep breath if you “mess up” — now project your voice, smile, and keep moving.
- Talk with the audience casually ahead of your presentation. Walk up to a few as people are taking their seats and say, “Thanks for coming, where are you from? Oh, I’ve always wanted to go there/I have an aunt who lives there!” Now you’ll feel as though you have some friends.
THINGS YOU LITERALLY CANNOT CONTROL
The situation: The room can’t be darkened and nobody can see your slides, there’s a noisy bathroom nearby, a fire drill happens during your presentation, the power goes out. These are arguably the most stressful situations because you cannot predict or control them, but there are ways to handle everything, aren’t there?
- Talk through your slides, and have handouts prepared ahead of time so you can at least use that as a visual.
- Maintain your humor.
- Resume your presentation as soon as possible, if possible. Don’t get flustered, just hop back into it.
- If presenting is not possible, let the audience know: “Ok, gang, it looks like it won’t be possible for us to meet today — thank you so much for coming, and we will let you know when we reschedule!”
While each snafu might be different, your response will likely be similar:
- Prepare well.
- Communicate clearly/often with venue.
- Remember to bring your sense of humor in case of a snafu. Don’t lose your cool — ultimately, people remember the experience you create more than the presentation details themselves.
- End on a strong note! We can’t stress this enough. When things go wrong, do what you can to turn it into a positive experience, then thank your audience at the end. “Whew! Well, thank you for hanging in there — that was quite a ride! You all were the best — I’ll meet you at the book signing table.”