Presentations: Dealing With The Unexpected

If you’re well prepared for your upcoming presentation but can’t work out why you’re still feeling stressed out as the date looms, perhaps the insights in this piece will be useful to you.

The word presentation is synonymous for many of us with the words fear and stress. Yet, we can’t always pinpoint exactly why. In my book “You Can Present With Confidence” I discuss the 5 Great Fears in some details, but they certainly do not represent all the fears one can harbour.

There are many different kinds of presentations. They can be delivered in many different environments. If it’s at your office to your team then it’s a familiar situation. That’s not too stressful. But what if it isn’t? Imagine your upcoming presentation in this scenario: It’s in another town, in a venue you’ve not been to before to an audience that’s unfamiliar. You tried to get some details but were only moderately successful, so actually you know very little about them except perhaps who they are. You’re about to deliver a presentation – you’ve prepared your content and visuals and know what you want to say and how long your time slot is, so you’re prepared. And you’re first up in the morning – yes the 08h30 slot! So what about the unexpected? Here are some possible scenarios:

Getting there

  • Flights can be delayed. Rather fly there the day before.
  • On the day the traffic is unexpectedly heavy causing you to run later than you’d planned
  • Although you’re early, your GPS (or taxi) takes you to the wrong place

You’ve arrived

  • When you arrive to set up there’s nobody to let you in – so you sit and wait with the clock ticking
  • The parking (or drop off) is quite far from the venue
  • The signposting is incorrect or non-existent
  • The venue is badly / inadequately set up or even not set up at all
  • There are no power points near to your presentation table / lectern
  • No extension lead or multi-plug
  • The presentation table is too small
  • The stage is very narrow
  • The presentation room is very narrow or very wide
  • There is light behind the screen
  • The room lighting is poor
  • The data projector is old, weak and ineffectual or faulty
  • The sound system isn’t working properly, is of poor quality or non-existent
  • The microphone doesn’t work or has a flat battery

The people

  • The MC is late or fails to introduce him / herself to you
  • Your hosts are inattentive or seem preoccupied
  • The audience isn’t properly settled at the start
  • The audience seems hostile, are interjecting with questions

These are just a few of many things that could disrupt you and make you feel uneasy prior to stepping up to speak. Some of these are in one’s power to remedy, sometimes quickly and other times not so quickly. Either way, here are some ideas about what you need to do:

  1. Before you leave for your presentation make sure you have all your stuff. Notes, cables, remote mouse, back up, address and directions, phone, wallet and your own microphone
  2. Plan to get there early. Very early is best. If you find yourself with spare time on your hands you can run through your main stories.
  3. Assess the environment and immediately identify anything that could create a problem like the seating (room layout), the lighting, location of exits etc
  4. Find out who will be introducing you as early as possible. As soon as you have identified them, hand them your introduction and ask them to please read your introduction as you’ve written it – slowly. You don’t want them saying anything they please!
  5. Always stay composed and cheerful. There is nothing to be gained by becoming stressed,. As soon as you realize that everything is not quite as you hoped, switch on your calm button and decide that you’ll work it out one way or another
  6. Get the sound check out of the way as soon as possible. That way you have time to make the necessary adjustments. A Shakespeare soliloquy is a lot better than the idiotic “one two one two”
  7. Ask for help. It’s impossible for presenters to understand how each different model of data projector works, so establish the right person to speak to who will get it up and running for you. Sometimes there’ll be someone present who’s job it is to sort out any technical glitches. Find out who that person is as soon as possible. Introduce yourself and make friends.
  8. Forgive yourself in advance for not anticipating the one thing that will go wrong and then take it in your stride. You may even want to make light of it in your presentation.
  9. Make eye contact, use gestures, smile as appropriate and infuse some energy into your delivery. You want to win your audience over, after all
  10. During your presentation it may be a good idea to schedule time for questions before your conclusion. From the line of questioning you will soon be able to work out whether you’re on track with this audience or not.
  11. Enjoy yourself. You’ve prepared for this moment and have something important and relevant to say. You owe it to your audience to give them the best you have. They’ll appreciate it and you’ll feel good about yourself.
  12. End decisively with your key message so the audience knows what action they should take.

It may surprise you that a presentation can still have very successful outcome even under circumstances that were not ideal. The posture and composure of the presenter is far more significant than almost any hindrance.

The final point is that by knowing you have an important point to make and that you have good value to share, you should be able to overcome most obstacles.

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