A few weeks ago, movie director Michael Bay made headlines when he abruptly left the stage during his presentation for Samsung at CES 2014, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The video of his (very short) talk and sudden exit went viral.
Since public speaking is often the number one fear that people experience, Bay’s very public meltdown when his teleprompter failed could discourage others from making presentations.
Yet, there are steps you can take that will allow you to continue with your presentation regardless of whether your teleprompter fails, your mind goes blank, or other difficulties occur. And then you can walk off the stage with your head held high, mission accomplished.
The most important response to an unexpected situation is to take charge. If you are not bothered by the mishaps that can and do occur, your audience will not be bothered, either. It is when you get upset that your audience gets upset.
Here are additional tips to help you maintain control of yourself and your audience:
1. Prepare well in advance.
--Practice your presentation out loud. Be familiar with what you want to say. Don’t just rely on a teleprompter.
--Take notes with you. You don’t have to use them, but knowing they are there will help calm you.
--Check your equipment ahead of time.
--Bring backups of any material or slides. (When I was speaking at a conference for 1,000 women, the organizers wanted my slides ahead of time. I sent them and they acknowledged receipt of them. When I arrived at the conference, however, I discovered they had lost my slides. I could have panicked, but I had numerous backups with me! )
2. Mingle before the presentation. When you can, go up to people, shake hands, introduce yourself, and welcome these individuals to the presentation. This rapport-building helps people connect with you, and allows you to feel more comfortable with them. Journalist Lesley Stahl of the TV show 60 Minutes interviewed singer Taylor Swift, and reported: “It’s Taylor’s tireless courting of her fans that may be the key to her success. Remarkably, she spends an hour before every show, meeting and greeting and charming.”
3. Remember The 92 Percent Rule™. This basic principle of mine reminds people that they don’t have to be perfect. Whew. Take the pressure off! When you do give yourself some leeway, it’s a lot easier to shrug off any mishaps that occur. Being a little less than perfect, say 92 percent, means you are still very effective – and in most classes that would earn you an A.
4. Acknowledge the technical difficulties and give the audience an alternative. You could say something like, “I will take questions from you until the teleprompter is working again.” Or, “Since the teleprompter has stopped working, I will be using notes for a while.” Or, “I will be using the flipchart since the computer has stopped working.”
5. Use a standard line. Anticipate any difficult situations that you may encounter and figure out what you will say if one of those situations occurs. You are less likely to panic if you have something to say. One speaker, when he forgets what he wants to say, will ask the audience, “If anyone has heard me speak before, what am I trying to say?” This line gives him a couple of seconds to get back on track. Another speaker’s standard line, when asked a question for which she doesn’t know the answer, is: “I don’t know. I will find out and get back to you.”
6. Make presentations. The more presentations you make, the more comfortable you become. And they don't have to be work presentations – any community or volunteer presentation will be good practice for you.
Additional information on presentation skills can be found in my new book The Essentials of Business Etiquette. Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on presentation skills and communication. For more information, contact Joyce Hoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 856.751.6141