Your presentation is going brilliantly. In front of you are rows and rows of smiling faces, hanging on every word you deliver, furiously taking notes, not wanting to miss a single drop of inspiration from you, the inspiring presenter.
You smile back at your audience, confident in the knowledge that this presentation is going brilliantly.
Your right thumb instinctively moves to press the button that will bring up your next fantastic slide.
Suddenly the smiles on the faces of your audience change to shock. You turn and look over your shoulder at the screen behind you.
Silently standing there is your slide. Six foot tall projected against the wall. But it’s not your slide. The text is all jumbled, it’s the wrong size, it doesn’t make any sense.
Your perfect presentation has been derailed.
Your stomach churns…
What do you do?
I’m sure many of you reading this have either previously imagined the situation above, or worse still, experienced it for real during a big presentation.
Generally, there are two ways we can go from here.
1. We stand there in front of our audience, open mouthed, speechless and possibly dribbling a little bit too. After thirty seconds we flee the stage never to return again.
2. We can handle it like a ‘pro’. Share a joke with the audience and laugh off the thing that has happened that we cannot change, and move on seamlessly.
When I discuss this second option with my public speaking coaching clients, their first response is often, ‘yes, but I am not a pro. I’m nervous enough about speaking as it is. I won’t have the speed of thought to quickly formulate and deliver a joke and move on without panicking…’
And here’s the big secret – the ‘pros’ panic too – and when they panic they can’t deliver impromptu humour on the spot either.
The only difference is that the ‘pros’ are prepared for that stomach churning moment…
The big secret
The secret is so simple. Preparation.
Before speaking, the ‘pro’ sat down and wrote a few lines to use if technology failed / he ran over time / he forgot his words.
Lines that can be delivered without too much thought and that seem wonderfully impromptu.
These lines can then be used forever more. Write once, use forever and whenever anything in your speech fails.
The ‘pro’ isn’t polished, just prepared.
What sort of lines might the ‘pro’ prepare?
Appearing polished when things don’t go to plan is as simple as just taking ten minutes before a talk to write and memorise a few lines.
You might choose to prepare lines for different things that you think may have the potential to occur. Here’s a few examples to get you thinking:
“It appears that the computers are becoming self aware and rising up to take over the world. TV always told us that this would happen!”
“This slide is in here as a test. Does anyone here speak gobbledygook?”
“Never work with animals, children or technology!”
“I had a great point here, so I am going to give it a nice long dramatic pause before I deliver it…”
“My mother always said I would get into trouble because my mouth worked faster than my brain, it turns out that she was right…!”
Running over time:
“I am completely guilty of having too many wonderful things that I wanted to share with you, I will finish this off now, but please do come and see me afterwards to hear about the final few pieces of inspiration that I had to share with you…”
You can do it too
You will notice that throughout this article I have referred to ‘pros’ within speech marks.
What is a ‘pro’, really?
In the view of many of us, a ‘pro’ is often just someone who appears very accomplished and polished at what they do. They’re not necessarily paid or professional, just cool, calm relaxed and effective.
The only reason that these people appear so accomplished and polished is through preparation and practice.
The wonderful thing about preparation and practice is that they are not the possessions of an exclusive club. Anyone can practice and prepare.
You just need to be aware that it is required.
So, take this article as your wake up call to avoid stomach churning moments in future and to become the polished ‘pro’ that others talk about.
Grab a piece of paper and spend ten minutes writing and learning three brilliant quips that you can use next time your big presentation doesn’t go to plan.
Future you will thank you for it!