Managing a Disastrous Presentation or Speech – What to do When Things Go Wrong During a Speech

Most people experience some degree of apprehension when speaking in public. After all, sometimes things do go wrong, leaving both the presenter and the presentation in a precarious position. Yet public speaking is an es-sential skill in today’s business environment. So is being able to mitigate or move gracefully through mishaps and keep the attention where it belongs – on your presentation, not you.

The first way to ward off a disastrous appearance is to avoid obvious reasons speeches bomb. They include:

  1. Lack of preparation
  2. Lack of skill or technique
  3. Lack of expertise on the subject matter
  4. Technical difficulties or unforeseen circumstances such as poor attendance, weather conditions, tardiness, etc.
  5. Illness or sudden malaise

Being unaware of the dynamics at play on a stage. Those all can be handled ahead of time. What should you do if things head south while a speech or presentation is underway? The first thing is recognizing things do go awry. As much as it may sound cliché and simplistic, it is precisely because things happen on our watch that we can do something about them.

Essential to recovering from a disastrous speech is learning to manage the moment as it unfurls or in the imme-diate aftermath. Here, then, are some ways to maintain some control of the situation.

  • Recognize it’s human to become mildly tense, shy or anxious. Mistakes are normal, so learn to tolerate and even welcome them. When a speaker makes a simple and harmless mistake – such as mispronouncing a name – he or she mustn’t draw attention to it excessively. Simply “move on.” It demonstrates professionalism.
  • Remember that you are an expert, not a martyr. No one ever perishes from publicspeakingosis, though a major gaffe may seem mortifying at the time. Still, one way to avoid the fear of “dying on stage” is to remember: Your credibility on a subject comes just as much from what you believe about yourself as it does what you accurately convey on a topic. Project confidence, but remember that a little humility goes a long way as well.
  • Keep in mind public speaking borrows from theatrical convention. A speaker willingly gets in front of an audience and delivers rehearsed lines. As such, it’s a voluntary act, created for a stage much like an actor inter-nalizes a script and then replays it with conviction for dramatic effect. Your content might be critically serious but the delivery is theatrical. You are an actor playing to an audience and must become accountable at that level. Remember: You did not wake up on that stage unaware, you chose to be there. Therefore, remembering why you are committing to speak can greatly reduce some of the inevitable nervousness and subsequent mistakes.
  • A speaker is in charge of all aspects of a presentation, including mishaps. Think of the notion of the captain of a ship. A speaker is the captain. Welcome the role rather than shy away from it.
  • Audiences are “actively passive.” It is precisely because an audience is aware of what goes on that the speaker must be upfront about what is going wrong. Assume your audience is always aware, even if they say nothing. So, the first thing to do is to acknowledge mishaps as they occur, maybe even ahead of time if you smell a disaster brewing. The situation will only be made worse if you try to hide it. For instance, if I drop my glass of water and then proceed to pretend it didn’t happen, I have robbed myself of my audience’s focus. Now everyone is thinking about the glass of water and why I pretended it didn’t hap-pen.
  • Use humor to demonstrate that you are human and that you have dealt with similar situations in the past – especially if it is true! If it isn’t make a joke out of the situation and demonstrate your “lighter” side!
  • Treat your audience as a partner. Respect them by confirming that what they just witnessed did hap-pen and that you are still in charge of the situation. Stay present. Don’t act out a character in your pres-entations unless you are damn sure of what you are doing and have tested it before. For instance you may have been told to use humor and crack jokes, but it’s really not your thing. In other words leave act-ing to actors and instead “be yourself.” Dazzle them with what is genuine about you not with what is in-authentic. If I’m in the middle of an “pretend act” that I’m not too confident in or rehearsed with, when something outside of my control happens I will feel and look like a fool.
  • Avoid “catering” to an audience, or trying to draw them in artificially. They will turn their backs on you. You cannot make an audience like you or like what you are presenting to them. Often when something goes wrong or not as well as planned, we turn on the “pleasing” act. We find ourselves compensating. We smile when we don’t feel like it. We move about when we should stay still. We lose our sense of self. Stick to your program. You can’t win’em all! If a presentation is not well researched, prepared or rehearsed, be up front and tell your audience. You will win points by being straight. Audiences are passive but not necessarily stupid.
  • Be watchful of your mood or attitude, especially if something goes wrong. You may wish for an error-free speech, but what if it doesn’t go so smoothly? Try not to be seduced by negative feelings, such as anger, that can somehow be projected out to the audience. An attitude results from something; it isn’t organic. It’s some-times a good reminder that embracing a moment’s bad mood can (backwardly) spell DOOM.
  • If you are nervous to an extreme point, stop! Collect yourself by breathing deeply two or three times and stay in your body. In a worse case scenario, take the audience in confidence and reassure them that it will pass or that it will only take you a moment to recover. Know that at that point they are worried about you. Apologize authentically. Remember that an audience wants you to succeed.
  • Understand physiological and psychological reactions to nervousness. Your body responds to stress in the same way it responds to imminent physical danger. The nervous system produces chemicals that flood your bloodstream. This can feel wonderful or it can leave you exhausted. Accept that nerves are part of the package.
  • Remember that self-consciousness comes from two sources: (1) not trusting how we feel and (2) not committing to what we are doing physically and emotionally. Try not to catch yourself thinking more about your actions instead of just doing them. Actions must be carried to completion. If they aren’t, the speaker should explain why an action was aborted, interrupted or changed to serve another purpose.
  • When in doubt, stand still and do nothing. Breathe. Smile. Yeah, it’s that easy. o Make visual and tactual contact with the room and items in it, such as lights, objects, furniture, people, and so on. It anchors our focus in the physical world, which has the grounding effect to help avoid nervousness and consequently potential mistakes.
  • Beware of apologizing, self-pity, mocking, preaching and demeaning as visible means of communication. It usually spells disaster. The same applies to overt or covert anger towards someone. These are traps and/or very poor choices. Sometimes a speaker simply does not realize that his or her performance contains these forms of expression. He or she should become aware of the devastating affect it has on an audience. The only exceptions naturally are when the speaker who apologizes, explains or views himself as a victim does so pur-posely to illustrate, entertain or make a point.

Copyright © 2007 Speakers & Artists International, Inc.

Presentation Design – The Right Graph

Microsoft does not know a heckuva lot about presentation design, but one thing they do correctly in PowerPoint is to make available different types of graphs so that you can match the graph type to the point you’re trying to make with your data. There are twelve different graph types available with PowerPoint 2000, but few of those styles work well in the low-resolution world of computer-based presentations. With few exceptions, here is how you want to use the following types:

o Pie Graphs for Share

o Bar Graphs for Comparative Amounts

o Line Graphs for Trends, Time

Pie Graphs

Pie graphs (commonly misnomered pie charts) are one of the more overused, and hence misused, types of graphs, primarily because they are so easy to make, and easy to make look good. They are misused when chosen to show amounts rather than share. The beauty of pie graphs is that they show so clearly what they are supposed to show, i.e., how much of the whole each element contributes. In most cases the actual amounts – in this case percentages – are actually secondary to the area of the slices in terms of telling the story.

When you look at a pie graph with five or fewer slices, your brain can quickly ascertain which groups dominate. We often see pie graphs with more than 5 elements, but they then become more difficult to comprehend in short order. In most cases, consider whether your story needs to include details about all the players, or whether a group of insignificant contributors can be grouped as “others”.

If you want to show how much volume each element contributes, rather than what fraction, you’ll want to use a bar graph.

Bar Graphs

To show relative sizes of different segments as well as the actual amounts, you’ll want to use a bar graph. Bar graphs are designed to show volumes against a y-axis that clearly delineates the units of measure. By having a series of bars next to each other, we can see how each element compares with the others as well as what absolute volume the element represents.

There are variations on the bar graph, such as a stacked bar, where different elements are stacked on top of each other to form a series, or a 100% bar graph, where all the bars are the same height but are split to show what percent of the whole the volume reflects. In a presentation environment, esoteric options are best to be avoided.

Line Graphs

Line graphs have the unique advantage of speaking to inherent right-brain prejudices about information. That is, when typically conditioned western minds see a graph with no labeling, they automatically assign “volume” to the y-axis, with “up” meaning “more”, and a time-line to the x-axis, with the left side meaning most recent. Just as we read from left-to-right, rightward motion subconsciously means positive motion.

You would want to use a line graph, then, to show a progression in amount from one point in time to another. The elevation of the line at any one point represents the quantity of the tracked data at that moment. Audiences, wanting to be the first-to-know, will automatically make assumptions about the types of values x-axes and y-axes represent. Don’t disappoint them.

Data labels

Graphs are a great way of making complex information easily understood. But graphs work best only when you properly integrate words, numbers and images. Whenever possible, label the elements of your graph directly on the elements themselves, rather than relying on the ever-popular clarity killer, the legend. Legends require too much effort on the part of listeners to discern exactly what each data point is. Just be certain your labels don’t clutter up the otherwise clear “picture” a good graph can make.

If you have a number of graphs in your presentation, you’ll want to avoid dumping a data overload on your audience by over-labeling each one. In fact, in many cases you can tell your story forcibly enough by only the size of your data elements, without burdening their minds with numbers that they’re likely to forget by the end of the presentation. However, it’s also not a bad idea to have what we call “reference slides” that do contain all the data attached to the end of your main slide deck. To really impress your crowd, install hyperlinks to these slides from the ones in your main show, and when some vice-president makes a stink about wanting to know the whole story, zap to your total-info slide and give him what he wants. He probably won’t ask again.

What Can Be Negotiated?

As a professional negotiator, who for more than three decades has negotiated hundreds of hotel and venue contracts, as well as numerous business contracts of a variety of different types, I have often been asked what can one negotiate, and why is negotiating meaningful. While this would require a far more extensive discussion to fully explore, the simple answer is that almost everything is, in fact negotiable (particularly under the correct set of circumstances and conditions), and that quality negotiations are very often the difference between a successful or less satisfying result. While this is true regarding many different aspects of our lives and activities, it is often most readily obvious when it comes to events.

1. In my experience, I have found that a quality, professional negotiator will save an organization a significant amount of time, aggravation and wasted resources. When negotiations are done correctly, not only should an organization save far more money than what they are paying for the negotiator’s services, but they should be able to count on the professional to make a series of meaningful recommendations that should provide more value, enhance marketing efforts, and locate additional areas of significant efficiencies. My personal policy is that I guarantee my clients a savings that will exceed the fee I charge by a significant percentage.

2. Many individuals negotiate, but only a quality professional negotiator will get an optimum deal made. Great negotiations come from had work and effort, an enormous amount of homework and research, emphasis on developing relationships based on mutual respect and integrity, attention to details, needs analysis, and knowing what can be asked for, and what cannot. I equate it to someone that wants to purchase a home. If someone really wants a house, he must know what other comparable properties go for, and then, whether he wants to be in a position to perhaps receive and entertain a counter – offer. If someone is only willing to pay a particular figure with no flexibility, then little strategy is needed. But, when someone wants the house and is somewhat flexible, he must be certain that his offer balances his ability to get a great deal, with a realistic possibility of at least receiving a counter – offer. If the offer is too little, the seller may merely consider it not to be serious, or even worse, insulting. That’s why an essential duty of a professional realtor is to be a quality negotiator. If someone is unrealistic in demands when negotiating with a hotel, the long term result is generally less than optimal.

Not everyone is a great negotiator. Not even every professional negotiator is. Before hiring a negotiator, you must feel conformance and confident in his abilities and performance. Great negotiators ask questions, but spend far more time listening than talking.