What to do when your business presentation goes horribly wrong

October 23, 2018

When you are asked to give a business presentation or speech, do you find yourself focussing on what might go wrong?  It can happen to the best of us so let me share tips and techniques to overcome a range of issues: technical problems on the day, challenging audiences, the rollercoaster of Questions & Answers, and when your mind goes blank.

Technology lets you down

The technical glitch is outside your control assuming you tested everything possible before your presentation: you have arrived early, tested audio-visual successfully but when it came to the presentation delivery, something goes wrong. In this situation, I suggest the following:

  1. Breathe and stay calm.

Breathe in slowly and exhale slowly for about 20 seconds. Allowing the technical person to solve the issue will also help them to remain calm. If it takes a little while, you will need to focus on the audience and carry on.

  1. Have your presentation printed out including your notes

Many of you may do this already, but when you make it a habit, you have both a hand-out and a way to continue delivering your speech without the slides.

  1. Be Authentic and own the imperfections.

Research has shown that when you own your imperfection people like you more.  They have more empathy for you when things genuinely go wrong.  Remember, people like people who are authentic.

The audience is challenging

As a speaker or presenter, we must be able to handle and work the room.  In a challenging situation, we can take back control by reframing the scenario in our favour.  The reframing technique is one many Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioners use.

For example:

  1. The Silent or Introvert audience. They are silent, and there is very little interaction.
  • Ask them easy questions which they can answer instinctively.
  • Encourage them when they respond to you.
  • If you have a small group ask these questions using their first name and request all to participate.
  1. The Smartphone enthusiasts. Use the following strategies with these die-hard social media enthusiasts.
    • Create a hash tag (#) for your event. Ask the enthusiasts to promote it along with sharing the summary of the presentation and learnings; before after and during the break.
    • Explicit instructions. If your message is critical and you don’t want the audience to be distracted, provide an explicit instruction that all mobiles phones are put on silent mode or switched off during the presentation.
  1. The Interrupter. We have all experienced individuals who interrupt you, correct you, heckle and grab all the attention.
  • Hear them out. Politely take control back when the individual is pausing. Thank them for contributing and invite them on stage to pose their question for all the audience to hear. I did this once to a person known to interrupt often. It scared him and he didn’t open his mouth again.
  • No eye contact. Do not make eye contact with the interrupter. Only make eye-contact when you are giving them a cue to speak at appropriate times.
  1. The Disruptor

You may have experienced disruptors particularly in business meetings.  They are passive aggressive, or ask inappropriate questions.  They may do this when their peers are around to show what they know, or that they don’t trust the solution/you /or the subject of the presentation.

Handle these people very carefully especially if they are one of the decision makers, or are individuals with authority who may make or break a deal, or damage your credibility. The following strategies may help you to handle this:

  • Listen to the person, thank them. Let them know that it can be revisited at the end of the meeting after the Q & A period.
  • Cut them off. When their turn comes, give them a minute and a half. Then politely, cut them off by saying something like; “you seem to have quite strong views on this subject, can we take it outside this meeting as we are running out of time. Hope that is ok with you.”

The Q&A rollercoaster

Many presentations have a question and answer session. Two things often happen in the Q & A:

  1. A silent audience. You may not get questions from the audience immediately. Give a relevant query or two, to the organiser in advance and ask him/her to kick-off the Q & A session.
  2. Answer the objections – these often trigger others to ask a relevant question. Never give the control to the audience.  You are the expert facilitator, so be sure to take the power back smoothly and seamlessly if someone attempts to highjack the Q & A.

Strong finish and summary. Before you start your presentation, ask the organiser to indicate when you have five minutes left. At the signal, take a couple minutes to answer the final question, and three minutes to summarise your solution reiterating your call-to-action.

The mind blank

Despite preparation you might still have a moment when your mind simply goes blank.  Then, what do you do?

  1. Don’t Panic – Look down for a few seconds and look up. Smile randomly at your audience members.  Smiling is contagious, and they will smile back.  If you are on video, look directly at the lens so when people view the big screen, they will know you are smiling at them.
  2. Pause – When you pause, you insert anticipation. Silence gets attention.
  3. Take a sip of water – Always have a small water bottle with you during the presentation. It will be useful if the organiser forgets to provide one. Sipping helps relax your throat in times of stress and will buy you a few seconds when needed.
  4. Notes – Refer to your notes so that you can recollect your thoughts to continue.
  5. Breathe and carry on.

Presentations go wrong, in fact I’d go as far to say as it’s a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’. So, keep the above advice in mind and you’ll be able to stay in control. Audiences will forgive an occasional wobble and if you handle things well they won’t remember that any glitches occurred. What they will remember is that you gave a polished presentation.



Sudha Mani is from Toastmasters International a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org  @Toastmasters

Comments are closed.

© 2019