It had to happen eventually. Until then I had no problems with my presentations; all came off without a hitch. As one who gives presentations frequently and who aspires to be a professional speaker, I know that I will experience a meltdown someday. That someday was this past Wednesday evening during a webinar I was hosting. Even though I trained myself for such an event, it still proved to be a challenging but instructional experience. It prompted me to put together some thoughts on how to give a presentation when disaster strikes.
The best time to plan for any disaster, of course, is during the quiet times. Now is the time to review the steps to take in the event you suffer a disaster during a business presentation. Play these steps over in your mind – visualize them – repeatedly. That will help ensure that when the inevitable occurs, you respond pretty much to script. You can expect some anxiety – the shock of the incident really hits you – but you can minimize its effects through proper response.
1. Maintain your composure. When something significant occurs – say, your computer crashes (like mine did) or the projector dies – it is a shock to your system. Part of you wants to panic. You realize the significance of what has happened and envision your presentation collapsing. It’s an embarrassing and humiliating moment. You are the presenter, after all, and those people are counting on you.
As quickly as possible regroup mentally. Don’t become flustered, because you will lose focus. (Much like panicking when you’re lost in the wild.) Quickly assess the situation. A comment or two to the audience will buy you some time. If you can crack a joke, that’s even better. Keep your wits about you. I realize it’s easier to say (or write) than to do, but as someone who has encountered this, I can tell you that with proper mental planning, you will react accordingly.
2. Evaluate the situation quickly. Determine as fast as possible what the effect is on your presentation. The breakdown naturally causes a disruption in your presentation. If you can, keep talking. Finish your current thought or segment, if possible. You’re trying to minimize dead-air time, during which audience members tend to get restless. By smoothly continuing your discussion you appear in control and exude an air of confidence. Audiences, both in-person and online, appreciate that. At some point you need to decide whether you can proceed, and how. The sooner you decide, the better.
3. Compensate and continue, if possible. Let’s say your laptop crashes. Try to give the presentation verbally. If the presentation is in person and you provided handouts, your presentation won’t suffer much. For webinars, a problem with your computer probably spells disaster. (It did with mine.) But I attended a webinar once in which the presenter used two computers. The laptop was used to show the PowerPoint slides, while the desktop provided the link to the webinar program. The presenter was able to continue the discussion via the chat box. We attendees never saw his PowerPoint slides, but we still learned from the discussion.
Another problem that can occur during in-person presentations is a broken (or non-existent) audio system. In that case, you just need to take a deep breath and beller out.
4. Worst case, reschedule. If whatever happened is so severe that you’re unable to proceed, apologize and offer to reschedule. However, for in-person presentations, it has to be a really significant issue. At a minimum, you can always present your material verbally. You should have notes, after all. Use those. Attendees drove some distance to get there and blocked out valuable time for the presentation. They should come away with something. Give it your very best. Talk with the host or meeting planner afterward about rescheduling.
No matter how many times you speak, and how often you rehearse before each presentation, you’re bound to encounter a disaster at some point. Mentally prepare now, and when the inevitable occurs, you will give your presentation with poise and professionalism.
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