How to deal with presentation nightmares

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Getting up on stage to give a presentation can be nerve-wracking enough on its own, but what if something goes wrong? Between broken clickers, out-of-sync teleprompters, and unexpected questions from the audience, there are lots of things that can catch you off guard while you’re presenting. You can spend hours practicing your speech—but how can you prepare for the unpredictable?

One survey found that more than one in five employed adults say they would do something—like pretend to be sick—to get out of giving a presentation. One of the major reasons for people’s aversion to presenting is fear of something going wrong onstage. But with a little practice, any presenter can prepare herself for even the worst presentation nightmares. Studying the mistakes that others have made on stage helps you learn which knee-jerk behaviors to avoid when faced with challenges. And by studying how great presenters handle sticky situations, you can learn valuable skills that will help you manage any presentation trouble that might befall you. We’ve compiled a collection of videos that showcase both bad and good ways to handle yourself on stage. Take a look, and soon you’ll be able to handle any tech failure or tough audience question that comes your way.

When tech fails.

By now, you’ve probably heard about what happened to director Michael Bay during his 2014 Consumer Electronics Show presentation. We really felt for Michael—a technological problem that was no fault of his own (a dysfunctional teleprompter) threw him off track—something that can happen to any speaker.


Many people can probably identify with his response—to get the heck out of there. When it comes to giving an effective presentation, however, running offstage isn’t going to do you any favors.

On the flip side, Microsoft’s Steven Sinofsky decided to power through a technical failure during a demo of the new Microsoft Surface two years ago. He was able to talk around the tech trouble until he had a chance to run back and grab a backup Surface—and his composure during the entire episode was admirable.


The awkward tension in the room, however, is almost palpable in this video. One key thing to remember is that your audience is on your side—a simple comment acknowledging the trouble helps the audience feel at ease and can relieve the awkwardness of the moment.

Steve Jobs was a master at dealing with on-stage tech trouble. At the Macworld Conference in 2007, Steve Jobs’ clicker famously failed him.

Grab their attention by making your presentation more interactive


Instead of awkwardly fumbling for a solution or storming off the stage, Steve kept his cool. He made a joke about the situation to put the audience at ease, and then launched into a story about his adventures with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in high school. Steve seemed like a natural on stage, but in fact, he was meticulous about his preparation—which included preparing anecdotes to tell when clickers stopped working.

When you get a tough question from the audience.

What do you do if someone asks you a question to which you just don’t have the answer? The Miss Teen USA contender from South Carolina faced this dilemma when asked a question about education during the competition.


She held her smile while delivering an answer—the only problem was that her answer was somewhat unintelligible. In a situation where you’re not sure what to say, the best solution is to take a moment to think through an answer. Even if you have to tell your audience that you need a moment to think, a brief pause is much less damaging to your credibility than a rambling, nonsense answer.

Nobody knows the answer to every question, but there are some folks who know a few tricks that help them respond to just about any question on stage. Presentation coach Sheri Jeavons offers up a few excellent tips in this video—the key is to remain composed and to know when to pause so you can think.


Once you move past your nerves, you can start thinking about more exciting things, like how to make your presentation persuasive, or interactive.

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