As they say in live theater, “the show must go on.” The same holds true for your presentation. Whether the customer throws you a curve ball, you’ve forgotten your slide deck, or can’t access your demo environment, you must carry on.
Things change and mistakes happen. Technology and humans are both fallible. The important thing to remember is to remain calm. Not only will keeping your composure help you manage the situation, but it will help your prospect stay calm as well. Keep in mind that your prospect will take his cues from you. If you suddenly look like you’ve just missed the last flight home, your prospect will be understandably alarmed as well.
When the unexpected occurs in business, I find many improv techniques to be very helpful, especially the improv rule of Use it, Lose it, or Laugh at to be extremely helpful. The rule quickly narrows down three choices of actions to take to make sure your presentation doesn’t end up bombing.
Here’s how to use the improv rule of Use it, Lose it, or Laugh at it
You walk in prepared to present a solution to one problem, but your customer has something else in mind. What do you do? Well unless the change is minor, you certainly don’t want to forge on stubbornly delivering the presentation or demo you’ve prepared to deliver (which I’ve seen too many presenters do). In the world of improv, you need to use what you’re given and make the best of it. Anything else is simply arguing with reality.
In this example where your information is no longer relevant, you may be better off scrapping your presentation and turning your meeting into a discovery or white-boarding session. This will allow you to gain a better understanding of the changes before presenting your solution, or rescheduling for a new presentation.
It’s not unusual for actors to forget lines, stage direction or props. Generally the audience never notices there was a mistake because the actor smoothly carries on. In sales, if the mistake doesn’t affect your basic message, there’s no need to draw unnecessary attention to it either. If your mistake is noticeable (you forgot a product, misspelled their name, etc.) apologize once and quickly move on. You don’t need to draw undue attention to it.
Comments like “I wish I could show you this great graph I had planned here” will only make your audience feel shortchanged. Make your prospect feel like she is in competent hands. Circle back to the missed section when you can, skip the graph, and send it as a follow-up.
TIP: Know When to Move On: If it’s a technical problem (i.e., the projector doesn’t recognize your laptop, your demo won’t load, etc.) you have about two to three minutes to identify and fix the issue before you start to lose your audience. If it’s going to take longer than that to resolve, enlist help, take a break, or use your backup plan (you have one of those, right?!)
*Laugh at it.
If there’s no hiding the problem (you forgot your deck, your laptop, or your mind), laugh at it, and then circle back to rule #1, Use it. For example, you keep losing your connection. You could quickly apologize, then share a laugh about the mighty technology God’s. If it’s a recurring problem, you could even make a running joke out of if it.
Humor provides a nice opportunity for everyone to let down their guard. Laughing at problems or mistakes is an important skill in improv and in sales. Prospects typically respond positively to a salesperson who can admit making a mistake and carry on with good humor. Of course, you never want to laugh at the customer, unless they laugh at themselves first, but you know that right?!
All joking aside, if your deck is so important that you can’t go on without it, it’s time to rethink your presentation.
Read tips here for how to recover from presentation disasters.