Recover from Presentation Disasters

We talk a lot about presentation preparation. We’re advocates for multiple file types, locations, offline and online contingencies and having every kind of A/V adapter ever known to man, including (only a little facetiously) a large flip chart.

But despite the fact that we actually wrote the book How to Be a Presentation God, none of us are gods in the omniscient sense. Things happen that we won’t see coming. Even the most sophisticated among us have probably been one rolling camera away from America’s Funniest Home Videos on more than one occasion. From general clumsiness to paranormal activity to natural disasters to (perhaps the worst possible occurrence) a Freudian Slip, fate will inevitably trip us either literally or figuratively at some point in our presentation careers.

The question is: what can we do about it?

They say that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. You may accuse us of that as we prescribe, yes, more preparation for those situations where preparation fails you.

But don’t worry, we’re not recommending more rehearsals, wires and gadgets or file formats. The kind of preparation you need to recover from unforeseen presentation disasters is all mental. You need to acknowledge in advance that you don’t control the universe, that you yourself are not sacred or immune to misfortune, and that in spite of a worst case scenario event, it is still possible to have a really great result.

There are 3 terrible reactions to presentation disasters that we all need to be prepared to prevent:

Pride: Often our first reaction to embarrassment or situations that don’t go our way is pride, which leads to overcompensation and, for the audience, awkwardness. Remind yourself that you are not important; what you present is important. This will help you shrug off the embarrassment or frustration.

Denial: Another common reaction is denial. Lots of presenters like to continue on as if nothing happened. It takes minutes, sometimes even 5 or 10, for an audience to stop thinking about the disaster and get back to listening. That’s about 2-4 pages worth of material. If there’s anything important they might miss in 4 pages worth of words, you’re better off acknowledging the disaster so everyone can move on.

Self-Deprecation: It’s one thing to be able to have a good natured laugh at yourself once in a while, but too much is as bad as not enough. Ever seen a comedian struggle on stage, only to start poking fun at himself so much that everyone starts feeling bad for him more than anything? That, too, will undermine your presentation.

Remember, the number one priority is to make sure the audience can still get your message despite the unfortunate event. The above reactions all work against getting the room back on track. The best path forward is to acknowledge what happened, have a good laugh about it, and then transition everyone back to the presentation.

Question: What’s the worst reaction to a presentation disaster you’ve ever seen?

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