What If It Starts To Go Wrong?
Occasionally it will! Yes, that sinking feeling when something just doesn't work out. Here are some of the more common presentation problems and a few suggested responses....
You arrive late
Roads clog, lorries jack-knife, planes are delayed and trains are cancelled. It is impractical to completely plan your way out of arriving late, but you can minimise the damage....
Assume there will be some delay, plan to arrive early and, if you are driving, check that there is somewhere to park.
Be certain that you are going to the right place; big companies frequently have more than one office.
If you are running late, phone up to say so - have the number with you.
And when you get into the meeting room give a quick apology - something like "Apologies, thank you for your patience". Don't go into apology overdrive and, unless it's big enough to be on the evening news no-one is interested in your "why I'm late story".
Technical equipment fails to work
Have you ever arrived in a meeting room to be confronted with 7 or 8 pieces of AV equipment and at least 10 handsets? The closest thing there is to help is a 642 page manual in 11 languages. And the meeting begins in 5 minutes! It happens all the time.
BIG piece of advice # 1: be there early enough to sort out the problem before your audience arrives
BIG piece of advice # 2: unless you are bringing all your own equipment ask in advance for a technical expert to be there to help you set up
BIG piece of advice # 3: if it isn't working and there is no immediate technical help then switch quickly to Plan B
Plan B can be anything - just have one. Maybe it is talking from handouts? Talking it may not be as good but it is probably better than floundering about hopelessly whilst your audience sits around with growing impatience.
You make a mistake
Forgotten what you want to say next? Error on the slide? Don't worry, everybody does it. Important thing is not to take it too seriously. If it is glaringly obvious then acknowledge it light-heartedly. If it is trivial then probably best to ignore it. Remember it is more likely to be noticeable to you. If it is embarrassing and on-screen then move to the next slide quickly.
Avoid the temptation to blame someone else - it just looks bad.
Forgotten your presentation
So foolish, but easy to do and I have done it. Having a Plan B is a good idea - maybe there is a handout. Maybe you can run it as a workshop or cut short your presentation. If you can't, then best to re-schedule or get it emailed over asap.
You are being asked questions you can't answer
Be honest. Most of us are not too great at bluffing. Flatter the person by telling them it is a very good question and say you will come back to them as soon as you can. Alternatively, if the question is really hiding an opinion of their own then throw the question back and ask them what they think.
Where is the audience??
It can happen - you had planned to speak to 40 people and you are in a huge room with an audience of 10.
There is a lesson in this - where practical, remind everyone and seek their agreement to attend in advance. On the day, however, that is all too late so here is what to do:
1. Thank everyone who did attend and thank them profusely. It is not their fault their colleagues/friends aren't there so don't complain at them.
2. Improvise. If you have 10 people in a room designed for 40 then bring everyone to the front and if you are on a podium then move down to be with them.
3. Don't wait forever for an audience that is not going to show - it annoys the audience that you have and it doesn't do much for your confidence. A few minutes delay is ok, then start.
Say you would like to take questions at the end or say that his/her ideas merit a lot more time than you can give them in the presentation and suggest a separate meeting afterwards.
The audience are just not interested
Don't be hostage to your presentation. If they are disinterested then ask them if they have any questions or what the issues are for them. Cut to the end, improvise, anything!
But don't labour through the next 20 slides just because you have spent time preparing them.