During my presentation workshops we try to replicate a real presentation environment as much as possible, in part, to practice how to recover when presentation disaster strikes. In a recent workshop, Michael, an experienced sales engineer hooked up his laptop and nothing happened. Michael checked the connections and still…nothing. Michael apologized and kept retrying it – much like when you’ve lost your keys and keep checking the same place you always put them in. Soon he was getting suggestions from everyone in the class. Two people jumped up to help. Another one went to find someone from IT. Eventually half the room was gone or busy checking emails or texts. It was just like a real presentation.
Likely you’ve faced this type of presentation disaster in real life: You’re giving an important presentation and your slide deck disappears, your demo freezes or you’ve forgotten something important. It is how you handle these unforeseen circumstances that can make or break your presentation.
Like Michael, without a game plan it’s easy to lose control of your audience when things go south. Use the following guidelines to help you handle unexpected challenges and keep your audience engaged when your presentation hits a curve:
8 Ways to Recover from Presentation Disaster:
- Stay Cool.
As your mind leaps from visions of disaster to possible causes and fixes, it’s important to remain calm. Your prospect takes his cues from you and if you suddenly look like you’ve just witnessed an accident, your prospect will be understandably alarmed as well. Pause (it will buy you time to think) breathe (it will oxygenate your brain) and keep it in perspective (it will keep you from melting down.)
- Block the projector.
When attempting to resolve the issue yourself, block the projector by either unplugging it or placing something in front of the light source. Allowing your prospect to see anything other than the slideshow version of your presentation is akin to seeing what’s behind the curtain at a play − it takes away the magic.
- Know when to Move On.
Attention spans are low to begin with. Lose your audience in the beginning and you may never fully get them back. Allow no more than two-three minutes to identify the problem and decide whether to get help or fix it yourself.
- Delay or take a break.
If you recognize the problem at the start, ask your audience if they can use about 15 minutes to take phone calls or check email so you can fix it or get help. If you’re in the middle of your presentation, give your audience a break. That will allow you some breathing room to focus on finding a solution without a room full of people staring at you. If you’re towards the end, unless it’s a very quick fix, finish sans slides using the techniques below.
- Carry on.
Unless the mysteries of the universe are on those slides, most presentation problems have an acceptable work around. It may not be ideal, but it won’t be a total loss either. If you have enlisted the help of IT, have them fix it in the background and forge ahead with your presentation as if computers had yet to be invented. Resist saying “I have a really cool slide I would be showing you here…” and focus on delivering your message as powerfully as possible until the problem is resolved.
- Prepare a handout.
Prepare copies of key slides in advance so that when you refer to a graph or chart that you are unable to show, your prospect has something to look at. Don’t make the mistake of handing out copies of your entire presentation unless you want to stare at the top of your prospect’s head the rest of the time.
- Engage Your Audience.
Here’s a novel idea: Use this time as an opportunity to talk to your audience. Get their thoughts on the topics covered so far, ask them questions about their experience, or tell a story. This may actually prove more valuable than any slides you were going to show.
- Whiteboard Your Presentation.
Most companies have whiteboards and markers available and it is the simplest stand in for a slide deck if your technology fails. In fact, research shows that presenting via whiteboards even offers some significant advantages over traditional PowerPoint presentations in terms of recall and interaction.