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.

Finding Divine Gifts – Coming Fully Into the Present Moment

The divine is always with us and always waiting for US to recognize and welcome its presence. That is its gift to us. However, to receive this gift, we must be in the present. An important aspect for being fully in the present moment is “Completing Incompletions.” An incompletion is simply that – something that is not complete. It could be anything: unpaid bills; anger or resentment toward someone or thing; projects around the house; something you said you would do but then never did, etc.

Something in our lives that is not complete holds a portion of our energy until it is complete. At some level we are thinking about it, worrying about it, trying to figure out what to do about it. Even if you think you’ve forgotten about it and let it go, you haven’t. This is the body’s natural tendency toward integrity, toward being complete and free.

To the extent we have incompletions in our life we are being robbed of vital life force energy, energy we could be using to create an extremely fulfilling life. Incompletions also block us from receiving clear guidance from our higher selves. We’ve got part of ourselves holding the energy of these incompletions and therefore we cannot pay full attention to the divine messages trying to get through. Actually, the message that is trying to get through is “complete your incompletions.” That’s why we keep thinking and worrying about them.

When it comes to completing incompletions in relationships (whether with a mother, father, sibling, spouse, friend, or co-worker) a big part is forgiveness – forgiveness both for ourselves and others. Interestingly, forgiveness means to “give as before,” no longer withholding or holding back. (Side note: we all think forgiveness is a great thing, and I agree, however, have you ever noticed that forgiveness has judgment built into it? If you feel you must forgive someone, you have passed judgment on them that what they have done is bad, wrong, and should not have happened. Now who’s the bad guy? Interesting, yes?)

There are a couple of good metaphors that can help us better understand the importance of truly letting go of the supposed “wrongs” we believe another person has done to us. Being angry with, spiteful toward, or withholding from another person is like holding a hot coal in your own hand with the idea that you are going to throw it at them – but you never do. It just burns and burns YOU. Or, said another way, it’s like drinking poison expecting the other person to die. In these examples you can see it makes no sense. All you have to do is drop the hot coal and don’t take the poison.

Incompletions in relationships are some of the most detrimental and life-sucking ones we can experience. However, all the incompletions in our life, from the $10 you may still owe someone, to the book you borrowed and have yet to return, to the projects around the house you keep putting off. They all drain you each and every moment. For truly free and energized living you must complete these incompletions. Identifying and completing your incompletions is a key piece of my coaching system. You can experience the freedom accomplishing this can provide in your life.

Try this:

Look into all the areas of your life. What is obviously incomplete? Make a list of those things. Just making the list and getting these things out of your head and onto paper will restore some energy for you. Then look at the list and select one or two things to complete. Start with a couple of easy ones so you can build momentum, and then work up to the more challenging incompletions. As you complete things, one by one, cross them off the list with a big smile on your face, then take on the next one that feels right – until you’ve crossed them all off the list.

Notice the amazing energy restored at each step along the way, and the exponentially rising access to major good mojo!

It’s More Than Just a Presentation

Your presentation reveals a lot about you. It shows your ability to plan, communicate, and think. Here’s how to make a good impression the next time that you speak.

1) When planning a presentation, identify and write the goal for your presentation. Then study it to make sure that this represents what is expected of you. If needed, survey others by asking if this meets their needs for your presentation.

2) Plan your presentation so that it supports your goal. Make sure every point moves the audience toward accepting your goal and discard all unrelated information. Unrelated information, however interesting, distracts the audience and wastes time.

3) Think through your presentation from the audience’s viewpoint. Consider what they know, understand, and expect. Similarly, consider what they need to know. Then plan a presentation that delivers this.

4) If possible, talk with key members of your audience to determine what they expect, know, and need from your presentation. These conversations will help you win support for your ideas, gain valuable insights, and practice parts of your talk.

5) Test your presentation with members of your audience, associates, or coworkers. Then pay attention to their reactions to your main points. If they’re different from what you wanted, make adjustments to increase the effectiveness of your presentation.

6) Rehearse your presentation everywhere, anywhere, and with anyone. Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse. An unprepared presentation always appears unprepared. And that upsets the audience because they know their time is being wasted.

7) Rehearse your presentation with a clock. This makes sure your presentation fits into the time allotted. People dislike presentations that exceed the time limit. It also ruins the schedule for the event where you are speaking.

8) When preparing slides, overheads, or other exhibits, show only one key idea on each. Too much information confuses and upsets people.

9) Make sure that the information on the exhibit can be seen by everyone in the room. An exhibit is useless if no one can read it. And you can’t rescue a useless slide by announcing, “I know that you can’t read this.” If the information is critical, then distribute copies as part of your notes.

10) When planning slides, test each slide by asking yourself, “Why am I showing this?” Make sure that each slide supports your talk. Otherwise, leave it out.