When your presentation seems to be going wrong what should you do?

By Sudha Mani, Toastmasters International

We can prepare and practice an excellent speech or presentation but things can still go wrong. The positive news is that there are ways to handle most situations that will help you to continue with your presentation and get well-deserved praise or applause when you have finished.

An issue can arise primarily from 4 situations: technical issues, challenging audience members, those moments of brain freeze and the pressure of a Questions & Answer session. Let’s look at these in turn.

Technical issues

Even when you’ve arrived early to test your audio-visual setup it is still possible for a glitch to occur. When this happens:

Have an activity up your sleeve that you can use while someone else is sorting out the technology.  For example, some questions for your audience that will get them relax and even more interested in presentation they’re about to hear.

Having a print out of your slides with notes will help you carrying on if the tech guy can’t solve the problem

Remember – research has shown that when you own your imperfection people like you more.  They have more empathy for you when things genuinely go wrong and will be supportive.

Challenges from audience members

Speakers must be able to handle and work the room.  In a challenging situation, we can take back control with the reframing used by many Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioners.

For example what if the audience is silent, and there is very little interaction?

You can ask them easy questions which they can answer instinctively. Encourage them when they respond to you. And ask these questions using their first name and request all to participate.

If the audience is obviously distracted by their smartphones you may need to give explicit instructions that all mobiles phones are put on silent mode or switched off during the presentation.

You can also create a hash tag (#) for your event. Ask the enthusiasts to promote it along with sharing the summary of the presentation and learnings; before after and during the break.

Moments of Brain Freeze

Despite preparation you might still have a moment of brain freeze.  Then, what do you do?

Take a moment to look up and smile at your audience.  It is human nature to smile back and this will help you relax and retrieve what you want to say next.

If you are on video, look directly at the lens so when people view the big screen, they will know you are smiling at them.  Taking a sip of water will help you relax and buy you a few seconds also.

Refer to your notes so that you can recollect your thoughts to continue.  This sounds obvious but it is often enough to get you back on track.

Take a breath and carry on!

The Question & Answer session

What happens if you have a particularly unresponsive audience?  Prime the meeting organiser with a couple of questions so they can step in if the questions are slow to come.  If you get a negative question (or objection) take it in your stride and answer.  This type of question may well trigger others to ask different questions.

Finish your Q&A by giving a summary and end on a positive note by repeating your call-to-action.

Remember that people don’t expect a presenter to have an absolutely flawless performance. If you relax and allow yourself a little imperfection you’ll find that overall your presentation will go well – and that is what the audience will remember.



Sudha Mani is from Toastmasters International a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org



More from Family Friendly Working
The Mumsclub PR Challenge 2010
All this week we’ve been featuring the winners of the Mumsclub PR...
Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.