Last week I was I was teaching an important workshop and a technical snafu kept my presentation from playing a video that would have set up the entire day perfectly.
One of the great mantras of public speaking went off in my head: it’s not the mistake itself, but how you recover from the mistake that matters.
When things go wrong, throw yourself into ad-lib mode. If you can face a moment like this calmly, without skipping a beat, the audience will follow your lead.
Here are four tips I’ve found helpful when dealing with the unplanned disruption:
1. Practice for an Authentic Conversation
For years I thought practice meant going over your notes, making sure your information was correct and using slides as giant note cards.
Today I practice having a conversation out loud, on my feet. I talk through each of my focus areas the way I would with a colleague or friend.
When you can have a conversation about your topic, instead of giving a formal presentation, you can recover from snafus in a natural way without derailing or losing your place.
2. Be Prepared for Anything
When you’re giving a speech or presentation, you have to be prepared for absolutely anything.
There are steps you can take, such as traveling with a bag of backup cables, flash drives, batteries and a remote clicker.
But perhaps the most important preparation is the mental acceptance that a wide assortment of things that can go wrong—technical gremlins, thin walls between you and the meeting next door, cell phones going off and the hotel staff dropping dishes.
If the disruption is small and only a few people notice, ignore it. However, if the disruption is so large that everyone notices, acknowledge it in light hearted way, so we can move on. For example, if the applause from the other room is loud, say, “I think the folks next door agree with me.”
The key is to stay poised and unruffled during any mishap. The audience will see you as confident and commanding and feel the same way.
3. Stay Focused on the Audience, Not the Equipment
When technical things go wrong, you might be tempted to make a face, stop, focus on the problem and apologize.
But stopping the show to beat on the equipment is never a good idea. You will break your connection with the audience and lose their engagement.
Instead, when the projector breaks down, acknowledge it and bridge back to your talk:
We’ll have the video later in the program—but let me share a story that …
You can enlist the help of the A/V folks on break and assess the problem without making the audience suffer through it.
4. Lighten Up
Finally, lighten up. Have a little fun at your own expense.
I’ve had my share of embarrassing moments, such as having my cell phone go off in my computer bag (on stage) just after asking everyone to turn theirs off. Once I presented for hours in a new jacket with the back pleat sewn together with a big white “X.”
There are also moments, perhaps in these same presentations, in which magic happens. When the audience knows I’ve put my heart into being with them, and see’s that I’m confident enough to stay focused on them, they just don’t care or even notice the mistakes that use to throw me.
It’s not the mistake itself, but how you recover from the mistake that matters.
Overcoming Presentation Snafus
- Practice for an Authentic Conversation
- Be Prepared for Anything
- Stay Focused on the Audience, Not the Equipment
- Lighten Up