When leading a presentation or meeting, it’s important to appear confident, at ease and in control. Yet, even with extensive preparation, unforeseen challenges can arise, bringing distraction and the potential to throw you off your game.
How you navigate through these possible derailments can impact more than the presentation itself. The poise you display influences audience perceptions of you (and by extension, your company). Rather than get flustered or agitated, use the opportunity to display confidence and competence in the face of difficulty.
If you’re confronted with one of these common presentation challenges in the future, here are some good ways to handle them to ensure you make positive impressions on audiences in any situation.
1. Powerpoint Problems
When experiencing technical difficulties, focus on your audience and the content — not on the problem. Remaining calm despite understandable frustration shows character, flexibility and resourcefulness.
Avoid placing blame on anyone and politely notify whomever is responsible for A/V so they can fix the issue as soon as possible. If you need to buy some time, field questions on what you’ve spoken about thus far or poll the audience to keep them engaged.
If the situation can’t be fixed right away, be prepared to keep going. While you should know your presentation inside and out anyway (and not need slides to know what comes next), it’s a good idea to bring a printed copy for a guide to stay on track, just in case.
If your presentation is working fine, but you notice an obvious mistake on a slide, don’t overreact. Although it can be embarrassing to discover a glaring error that fell through the proofreading cracks, remember that no one’s perfect — acknowledge it briefly and move on. Make light of the error if appropriate, but don’t over-apologize or place blame on anyone else.
2. Attendee With Constant Questions
You’ve likely experienced a meeting or presentation where someone keeps asking questions (perhaps in a confrontational tone or with excessive commentary). The key to managing a difficult attendee is to enforce boundaries respectfully. Responding to a disruptive individual with grace turns a potential problem into a positive display of your ability to lead and maintain order, which the rest of the audience will appreciate.
Even if you set guidelines that welcome interaction during the presentation, when someone repeatedly interrupts, others are bound to get as frustrated as you are — so everyone in the room is rooting for you to make it stop. One solution is to revise the rules, e.g., “Moving forward, let’s save remaining questions until the end because we have a lot of ground to cover in the next 30 minutes.”
Separately, when you open the floor for Q&A, if an individual keeps tacking on one more thought after another as you respond to their questions, you’re well within bounds to say that you need to move on to other people’s questions, but you can follow up with them after the meeting or presentation. Similarly, if someone has questions that seem highly personal to them (or their company) and not relevant to others in the group, suggest speaking with them afterwards.
3. What To Say Next
Losing your place
If you lose your train of thought during a meeting or presentation, don’t get flustered. Take a deep breath and regain your composure. Move on to the next section or ask the audience for help, “I somehow just lost my train of thought — can you help me remember where I was?” You can also create a transition by asking people if they have any questions about what you’ve talked about thus far. It’s ok to inject humor about losing your place too, but only do so once. As with other mishaps, don’t over-apologize, self-criticize or dwell on it; simply acknowledge and move forward.
Stumped by a question
If an audience member asks a tough question and you don’t have a clear answer, provide an honest response. You’ll come out ahead instead of stumbling through an ineffective and circular answer laden with um, uh, well, sort of. If you have an educated guess, share that with the appropriate caveat. Ultimately, people appreciate a genuine response much more than one that is fabricated or rambling.
When faced with a question you hadn’t previously considered, note the interesting query and that you’ll get back to them with an answer. Be sure to follow-through on this (in whatever way appropriate for the situation) since you promised something in front of an entire room.
4. Sound Issues
Mic stops working or has excessive static
While this is clearly frustrating, avoid appearing exasperated. If there’s no replacement mic available, project your voice and confirm that everyone in the room can hear you. If it’s a large space where that’s difficult, move as close to the audience as you can. Maintaining confidence and continuing (rather than letting the issue preoccupy you) will keep the audience engaged, even under poor circumstances.
Whether a cellphone ringing, speaker buzzing or construction noise nearby, loud disturbances are unwelcome when speaking to a group. While you can take some preventative measures (like reminding people to silence their phones), most noises are beyond your control. If possible, ask to move to a different space away from the source. If that’s not an option, make the best of it — acknowledge, pause when needed (e.g., to wait out a fire alarm test) and then proceed accordingly.
5. Feeling Under The Weather
If you have a cold or laryngitis, make sure you have sufficient water, tissues, throat lozenges etc. on hand. Also consider if there is anything else that will make for a smoother performance, such as a mic (if you hadn’t planned to use one originally) or a stool (so you don’t have to be on your feet the whole time).
If you sound awful, it’s ok to acknowledge it with the audience at the beginning of your presentation, but don’t apologize repeatedly. This draws an unnecessary amount of attention to the issue.
When leading a meeting or presentation, your conduct reflects your personal brand and influences what people think about you. Don’t let unforeseen challenges negatively impact impressions. Face possible derailments head on by acknowledging the issue, making modifications where possible and pushing forward. This turns a potential problem into an opportunity to demonstrate that you’re adaptable, self-assured and poised under pressure. With this approach, you’ll make a highly favorable and memorable impression on an audience.