Presentation Disasters: What to Do When Things Go Wrong

The Public Speaker gives practical tips for 4 common public speaking disasters. Read about how to recover and move on.

Lisa B. Marshall,
October 18, 2013
Episode #224

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Sometimes when giving a speech or presentation, we feel nervous and exposed, especially when we stumble, or when things don’t go as planned. It can be nerve wracking - unless you're well prepared.  Today, I'll cover disaster recovery tips for 4 common presentation snafus to make you look like a pro, no matter what happens. 

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Here's how to recover from 4 common presentation disasters:

Presentation Disaster #1: You’ve Lost Your Train of Thought

Imagine, you're rolling right along in your presentation, then suddenly, you forget where you were going with your point. You just draw a blank. This can be very unnerving. But don’t worry, it happens to the most seasoned speakers. Try not to panic because you have a few tricks in your arsenal to help you recover. So what do you do?

  • Don’t freeze. Instead, simply ask, “Where was I?” This is perfectly okay! From experience, I have found that someone in the audience is happy to help out. And the bonus for you will be a good recovery as well as interaction with your listeners.
  • Remain calm and move on. There is no need to draw attention to the fact that you lost your bearings for a moment. Just start your sentence over again or move on to the next point.
  • Use this pause for a sip of water. Everyone will think you meant to stop for a drink, and you can gather your thoughts. No need to bring more attention to it by saying, “Gosh, I totally forgot what I was going to say!”

Presentation Disaster #2: You've Run Out of Time

Hopefully you researched and confirmed the amount of time you are allowed for your talk in advance. But even then, something else could change that - the previous speaker went over his or her time limit, a blizzard is just beginning and dismissal will be earlier, etc. These are good examples of why it is wise for you to prepare ahead of time a few ways to shorten your presentation while still hitting the main points:

  • Practice, or have ready, a 40-minute version of your talk, a 35-minute version, a 25-minute version, a 15-minute version, and even a 10-minute version. For this to happen, you don’t need to change your slides, only the verbiage that accompanies them. This is also a good reminder not to read your slides to the audience word for word.
  • Know the main take-away is you want your audience to get from your speech. Beforehand, identify the must-knows, the should-knows, and the nice-to-knows. Highlight these main points so that you can quickly wrap up your talk without sounding like you’ve abruptly stopped your presentation.
  • Familiarize yourself thoroughly with the software you are using for your presentation. For example, if you are using Power Point, learn how to hide some slides on the spot so that you can skip over them quickly.


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