What To Do When Things Go Wrong

Presentations can be complex, especially if you’re using a slide show or other forms of technology in your mix. The more complex, the more things that can go wrong, and unless the entire event is totally under your control, there’s a good chance that more than one thing will not go as planned. Bearing in mind that presentations are generally unnatural situations, your aim is to make it seem as natural as possible, and this is where experience can be a great friend.

There is one over-riding rule when things do go wrong, and that is to remain composed. If you let your composure slip, you dramatically increase the chances of the problem snowballing. Snowballs rolling downhill tend to become avalanches.

A common problem is insufficient time to set up through no fault of your own. You’ve arrived early, but either had no access to the venue, or the speaker before you exceeded their time. Stay calm, never show that you’re aggravated in any way. It helps to keep focusing on how much you’re looking forward to the event. If necessary, make running adjustments to your presentation. When you are in a position to set up, do so calmly, even if you have one hundred pairs of eyes staring at you. And as you start, do so with a large grin and immediately focus on giving your audience massive value.

I’ve often seen presenters stumble over their words, stop, apologize and go back to beginning of the sentence. Don’t do either. By apologizing, you simple draw attention to the error. Your audience has heard the first part of the sentence already – all you need to do is complete it, without any fuss. Chances are, they won’t even recall your little stumble, unless of course you make an issue of it.

When you’re using a microphone, a sound check is vital. If the audio is too loud or soft, chances are good that the technician is not focusing on you when you’re trying to get his attention. A good idea is to introduce yourself to him at the beginning and get his name. Makes it much easier, and after all, you do have the microphone, so he’s likely to hear “George, could you turn the sound down just a tad, please?”

Computers don’t just go in to hibernation for no reason. It’s usually because you forgot to connect to live power. Check if it’s plugged in. If it is, is it switched on? In the event of a power cut you should be able to continue without your slides, unless you haven’t prepared properly. If the power is restored, give your audience a 3 minute leg stretch break, get your technology back on track and simply resume. It may not be ideal, but the calmer you are about any interruptions, the less likely the audience is to remember.

On the subject of interruptions, you may have noticed that when someone enters the room during a presentation, the eyes tend to turn towards the new arrival. That’s a good time to pause, wait for the person to take their seat, and then resume. The interruption will end quicker that way, and you will remain in control. The same applies if people start having a private conversation. Pause, then politely ask them to share it with the rest of the room. If it isn’t worthy of the room’s attention, they will usually back off, and you can resume. Most important, you will have regained control, and it becomes less likely that someone will try that again.

An awkward question often poses a problem for presenters, but only because we take on the burden of invincibility when we present. The truth is, no one is invincible and no one knows everything, neither can you. So if you don’t have the answer to a question, admit it and offer to find out soon. You are likely to earn far more respect by being straightforward than by answering incorrectly.

It is also ill advised to enter in to an argument with an audience member, as the audience may side with them not you, which could spell the death of your presentation. You can acknowledge their point of view, but you need not agree. Simply agree to differ and move on.

In reality we put ourselves under far too much unnecessary pressure when we speak to audiences. This need not be so. If you can cultivate the habit of being yourself and approaching audiences as groups of friends, presenting gradually becomes so much easier, more fun, and more profitable! Besides, most audiences are there for a positive experience rather than a confrontation.

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