How to Prepare for Curveballs During Your Presentation
Sometimes, all the practice in the world can’t prepare you for the unexpected hiccups you may encounter while delivering your next presentation. You could have your speech memorized to the very last word, but on the big day, the projector suddenly goes dead or your microphone cuts out. In an instant, your perfect timing is thrown off and your concentration has been broken.
Handling these unexpected interruptions with grace and finishing out your presentation with confidence is what separates the best speakers from the forgettable ones. Fortunately, there are a few basic tips and tricks that can help anyone get through those presentation snafus.
Plan Way Ahead
No matter what type of presentation you’re about to deliver––from a keynote speech to a financial report––preparing yourself to pivot mid-presentation is crucial. This is especially true in the case of time-restricted presentations, when any unanticipated interruption could cut short your designated time slot. Technical errors, preceding speakers running long, or spontaneous schedule changes can all mean you need to shave five, ten or even fifteen minutes off your thirty-minute presentation.
Preparing multiple versions of your speech can therefore be a lifesaver, but it’s also essential that in each version––no matter the length––you don’t sacrifice your message, Jared Lindzon of Fast Company explains. While certain details may need to be cut out of shorter iterations, all of the most important elements must remain in there. That is not to say, however, that you should relegate the “less important” information to the end of your talk. Indeed, there shouldn’t be any superfluous details at all—if a point is not vital to your presentation, don’t include it.
Gauge the Room and Go With the Flow
An added benefit of planning and preparing well in advance is that it helps you make other necessary, possibly presentation-saving adjustments. Being able to go off script, for example, can make all the difference, especially if your allotted time has changed, because you can change the flow of your presentation on the fly.
This is critical because it allows you to watch your audience and gauge their responses to the information you’re presenting. Consequently, you can see if your message is landing and where you might need to make any clarifications as you progress. Making these real-time adjustments will naturally prepare you to address another common source of presentation curveballs: question and answer sessions.
Q&As can be particularly intimidating because they are unpredictable: you never know what questions you’re going to be fielding, let alone how audience members are going to respond to your answers. Maybe something in your presentation really irked a member and he’s asking an aggressive or abrasive question. Or––and this is an all too common occurrence––the person is really more interested in himself and what he has to say than in your presentation.
That’s why you can’t be afraid to take control and guide the session, as the American Psychological Association explains. Make sure to field as many audience questions as your allotted time slot allows and be as diplomatic and gracious as possible when dealing with hostile or particularly vocal questioners. Offering to answer a pointed question after the session is an effective way to deescalate a situation and keep things on track.
As intimidating as Q&As can be, they are also tremendous learning opportunities. Try to approach them with an open mind and remember—your presentation can only get better.