Presentation tip: Don’t let gaffes trip you up

In an earlier post, I discussed how to handle problems that sometimes occur during presentations. This presentation tip column goes a bit deeper. I use examples from my own speaking experiences to show you how I overcame minor mistakes

Remember this: If something occurs while giving a presentation, compensate and move on. This is an important point. Presenters – especially nervous ones – sometimes overreact when they make a mistake. Errors are a part of every presenter’s life. Learn to live with and deal with them.

Presentation errors fall under two broad categories: physical and mental. Let’s start with physical ones.

One presentation occurred in a room that had two banquet tables near the front. Placed end-to-end, they were used to serve the lunch we enjoyed before my talk. After eating, I moved one table about two feet to create a path to the front of the room, where the white board is.

After my opening comments to the group, I backed up and – bang! – bumped into the other table, nearly tipping over my water glass. Ugh! Why didn’t I realize earlier that the other table had to be moved as well? Too late now.

Realizing my mistake, I compensated by adjusting my stride. From then on, as I backed up I took a step to the left, and proceeded to the whiteboard.

You’re probably wondering, Why didn’t he take a few seconds to move the second table? Simple: I didn’t want to disrupt the presentation and draw further attention to the issue. The key is to adjust for the mistake and continue.

Sure, if you tip over the lectern or drop something, you need to correct the situation. But in most cases, you’ll merely continue your presentation.

A mental mistake usually involves forgetting some material or mentioning a point out of sequence. I’ve done both. In either case, ignore the desire to show you’ve made a mistake. Don’t crunch up your nose or slap your forehead. Just plow on.

Remember that your audience doesn’t have your script and won’t know what was missed. If it’s good material, find a way to introduce it later. That is easier than you think.

Discussing information out of sequence takes a bit more skill, but can be handled as well. You need to improvise, and bring yourself back to your current point.

During one talk about presentations I started by discussing the importance of preparation and research. Suddenly I mentioned how useful a digital recorder can be (and pulled it out my pocket, as well). That comment was supposed to come in a later section. Ouch!

I had to quickly come up with some reason why a recorder was a valuable tool for the research and preparation phase of the presentation. My explanation was a bit choppy, but I had to say something to get out of the minor jam I put myself into. Saying nothing would’ve been worse.

Mental and physical mistakes can be minimized by rehearsing frequently and being fully acclimated to the venue. Even so, they are a part of life and will occur occasionally during your presentations. Don’t get flustered. Fast thinking on your part – which, admittedly, comes with experience – allows you to overcome your gaffe and finish strongly. Avoid drawing attention to the error and further disrupting your presentation.

The spoken word is fleeting. If good material immediately follows a mistake, your audience is more likely to remember what you wanted them to. And you can leave the room proudly for completing another successful presentation.

For additional presentation tips, see “Check microphone before presentation” and “Let your hands flow freely.”

What gaffes have you experienced as a presenter? How did you overcome the incident(s)? Please feel free to offer your own presentation tips. And if you found value in the post, could you do me a favor and share it with others? Thanks!

Tom Fuszard, content writer, blog writing, pr writing, web copy



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