Surviving Presentation Disasters

Posted on 22nd Sep 2014

Most people feel nervous when giving presentations, partly because of the feeling of exposure that they invoke, and partly because when things go wrong, you feel incompetent, which only adds to your discomfort. Preparation is the key to minimising the negative effects of common presentation disasters and, if you handle those problems well, it can even end up making you look good.

Equipment Malfunction

Give enough speeches and presentations using digital technology, and it’s almost inevitable that one day the technology will fail you. Halfway through a PowerPoint presentation your computer crashes, leaving you stuck. If you stand there and fiddle with your computer, you’re going to lose your audience so ask for help, and let someone else fix the problem while you continue speaking. And prepare yourself for techno-disaster before the presentation by printing out a hard copy of your slides.

Running out of Time

Sometimes you get to dictate how much time you have for a presentation, but in most cases you’re working with someone else’s time constraints. Even if you know in advance how much time you have, it’s always possible that circumstances will dictate otherwise, and you’ll end up with less time than you expected. Again, advance preparation is crucial. Make sure you’re thoroughly familiar with the main points of your presentation. Identify key ideas, and organise your information such that you can pass over the less important points if you need to.

What was Your Point Again?

Losing your train of thought mid-sentence is incredibly unnerving, but it happens to everyone at some point. Don’t panic and try not to draw attention to it. Sip some water and recollect your thoughts, then start your sentence over.

Embarrassing Accidents

Everyone has heard a story or two about presentation disasters that are like something out of a comedy sketch: someone falls off the stage, they have a wardrobe malfunction, or some other equally humiliating problem causes the audience to either gasp in awkward horror, or explode with laughter. At this point you can do one of two things: pretend it didn’t happen, or acknowledge it with a joke. Either way, it did happen, and it’s going to get talked about. It’s much better to acknowledge it, so that both you and your audience can move on and concentrate on your presentation.

Even the most professional and experienced presenters occasionally run into difficulty. Take it in your stride, don't give yourself a hard time and, in the end, people will recognise it when you deal with something unexpected well.

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