Help! What to do when a presentation goes wrong

By: Sudha Mani

Date: 8 October 2018

Help! What to do when a presentation goes wrongEven when we're confident in our subject matter, many of us fear the moment when a presentation goes wrong. Issues usually take one of four forms: technical problems, tricky Q&A sessions, challenging audience members and moments when we just go blank.

Here are some strategies to deal with each of these situations, and to ensure you come across as professional and in control.

Technical malfunctions

Even when you've tested the audio-visuals ahead of time, glitches can still happen. Here's what to do.

Calm breathing

Breathe in slowly and exhale slowly for about 20 seconds, while you allow the technical person present to resolve the issue. Move away to give them some space, and detach.

Have something ready to fill the gap

You can use a teaser. Ask the audience a question which relates to the presentation, and then move on with a few others. This can get people engaged and ready for more.

Have your notes handy

If you don't already do so, make it a habit to have your notes printed out so you feel confident to proceed without slides if necessary.

Be authentic

Remember - research has shown that when you're authentic and own your imperfections, people like you more. They have more empathy when things genuinely go wrong.

Q&A sessions

There can be two particularly tricky situations that arise with a Q&A session:

  • A shy audience. You may not get questions from the audience immediately. If this happens, pause, then ask the organiser to kick off the session using a couple of questions you've provided in advance.
  • Objections can put you off-balance - but never hand control to the audience. You are the expert facilitator, so be sure to answer smoothly and seamlessly if someone attempts to hijack the Q&A.

Always end a Q&A strongly. Answer the final question, then summarise - so you end on your key message or call-to-action.

The challenging audience

Speakers must keep control and handle whatever audience they're faced with.

The silent audience

In this scenario, people are silent, and there is very little audience involvement. To encourage more interaction, ask easy questions which people can answer instinctively. Encourage them when they respond to you, to draw out more detail.

Using first names and explicitly asking everyone to participate can also help.

The interrupter

We have all experienced individuals who interrupt you, correct you, heckle and grab all the attention while you're speaking.

First of all, hear them out - then politely take control back when the individual is pausing. Thank them for contributing, and take back the stage. Avoid eye contact - only use this when you are giving them a cue to speak.

If things get really bad, you could invite the person on stage to pose their question for all the audience to hear. This may well silence them!

The distracted audience

If smartphones are too much in evidence, consider creating a hashtag for your event. Ask the enthusiasts to promote it, along with the summary of the presentation and learnings, before and after your presentation and during the break.

If your message is critical, explicitly ask that all mobile phones are put on silent mode or switched off during the presentation.

4. My mind's gone blank…

Despite preparing well you might still have a moment when you suddenly go blank. Here's what to do:

  • Don't panic. Look down for a few seconds, and then look up. Smile. Smiling is contagious, and you'll get smiles back. If you are on video, look straight at the lens so when people view the big screen, they will feel you're smiling at them.
  • Pause. When you pause, you create anticipation. Silence gets attention. Refer to your notes so that you can recollect your thoughts to continue.
  • Take a sip of water. Sipping helps relax your throat in times of stress, and will buy you a few precious seconds when needed.
  • Breathe and carry on.

Presentations go wrong all the time. In fact, my experience suggests that it is more a case of ‘when' rather than ‘if'! So, be prepared, be flexible, let the technical experts help when necessary, and overall you'll do brilliantly.

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2018 Sudha Mani, Toastmasters International