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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn Kane

Three common "presentation bombs"​ and how to diffuse them

Originally published on 12/7/2020 on LinkedIn

Have you ever bombed during a presentation? It doesn't matter if you're talking to five people or 500, when things start to fall apart it's like your worst nightmares are coming true.

I discovered something really interesting over the past decade though: your mistakes are more obvious to you than anyone else. The next time your presentation goes south, remember that you can salvage almost anything if you act quickly and keep a sense of humor.

Bomb reason: you prepared the wrong information. Maybe your contact told you that you would be talking to departmental managers, but you suddenly find yourself in front of the C-suite. Or you start your presentation but realize you're just not connecting with the audience. What do you do?

Diffuse it: Don't stick to your slides if they're not working. Talk to your audience about what they want to know. If it's a small group, you can have them go around the room and introduce themselves, and have them add a question or something they were hoping to learn from your presentation. Then you can just start answering their questions instead of jumping into your slide deck.

If it's a big room, you can still turn it over to your audience. But instead of the general "Any questions?" you might want to prompt them with "What kind of questions can I answer about _______?" to create the right conversation.

Bomb reason: computer problems, A/V, and other things outside of your control. I've had it all happen - a demonstration that freezes, a video that refuses to play, slides that have mysteriously vanished, broken A/V, no internet, and co-presenters that don't show up. None of that is your fault, but you are still the one in front of the room and the audience will take your lead. If you spend your time apologizing, sweating and despairing, that's what they will remember.

Diffuse it: Don't draw attention to the problem. Once I gave a 20-minute "lunch and learn" using a whiteboard because my presentation laptop fizzled just as I began my talk. Twenty minutes is not a lot of time, and I figured it was pointless to spend five of those minutes rebooting and restarting my slides. I pivoted immediately, saying "well, that's ok, I don't need slides" and gave my presentation about digital signatures, drawing when I needed a visual.

No matter the nature of the disaster, the secret to handling these problems seamlessly is to have a backup plan. Do you have another copy of your slides in the cloud or on a usb drive? Do you have a backup laptop? Can you depend on a coworker or co-presenter to step in? Have your backup in place before you go onstage to make sure you're covered!

Bomb reason: You're really nervous

This is everyone's nightmare. You know you're going to be nervous, but you hope you can still pull it off. Then you step on stage and you're shaking, you forget your lines, or you say something you regret.

Diffuse it: It happens. It's not the end of the world, and freaking out about it will make it worse. Take deep breaths, take a sip of water, and smile. Smiling will mask your nervousness and actually helps calm you, so try to find a smile even when it feels like a disaster.

Early in my career as a product evangelist, I had to give a presentation that was out of my comfort zone. I had memorized the information but it was very technical and it just flew out of my head. There was no faking it and I panicked briefly. I stuttered a little nonsense and then paused to collect myself - it felt like hours but it was just seconds. I ended up skipping ahead to the part I DID remember, and I was the only one that thought it was a big deal.

What do you want your audience to remember?

Do you want them to remember the flub or the A/V difficulties? If you let the bomb control the situation, that's what will make the biggest impression. But it doesn't have to be that way - YOU can control the outcome with the right preparation and a little humor.

Make a plan. Practice your plan.

Breathe. Laugh. Enjoy.

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