Terry Corbell, The Biz Coach
By Terry Corbell
Business Consultant

9 Strategies for When Your Business Presentation Goes Badly



So you know how to give a powerful opening in business presentations. You know your subject and how to get the people in the audience to connect emotionally with your pitch. You leverage the latest technology.

Audience members might not recall everything you say. However, they’ll always recall how you make them feel.

To guarantee a successful presentation, prepare for an unforeseen snafu — something that goes terribly wrong. It can happen to anyone. So you need to react quickly to salvage your speech-making opportunity.

oscars-streakerFor a successful outcome, here are nine tips:

1. Hecklers

Should a heckler interrupt you, respond positively, such as “Thank you for your         contribution.” Or, “That’s interesting. Let’s chat at the break.”

If you can think quickly on your feet, humor works.

During the 1970s, nude streakers were a fad at public gatherings.

During the televised 46th annual Academy Awards in 1974, I’ll never forget suave actor David Niven’s attempted introduction of Elizabeth Taylor and his amusing response to an interruption by a streaker:

“But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?” he commented to the television audience.

Later, there was speculation the streaking was a planned event. Either way, it remains as a classic example of poise.

You must remain poised and authoritative. If the heckler persists, and you have no other choice but believe the audience is with you, politely ask the heckler to depart.

2. Equipment failure

Your poise in the face of adversity from equipment failure will dictate your success. The audience will see there’s a problem, but you need to have a backup plan and put it into action promptly.

It’s happened to me. Fortunately, I knew the subject well and continued the presentation with enthusiasm and turned the catastrophe into a terrific sales order. The event helped my confidence, which was critical at the time during a recession.

3. Embarrassing question

To throw you off point, you might be faced with an awkward question. To get in control and buy you time in order to think of a response, paraphrase the question. Then, ask the person if your impression is right.

If your sense is that it’s intended to be a hostile question, respond: “I’d like to respond, but first what do you think?”

If your audience is comprised of customers, and you get a negative question from a customer, paraphrase the question and ask if your impression is correct. Then say something like, “When I get back to the office, I’ll investigate your situation and will call you at four, is that OK?”

4. Rude audience members talking among themselves

You should command 100 percent attention from the audience. If the whole audience is inattentive and abuzz with talking, suggest they take a short break.

If it’s just a couple of people, pause, and don’t say anything.

If they continue, look directly at them and ask them if it’s OK if you continue. You can expect them to be embarrassed and they’ll stop chattering.

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”

-Dale Carnegie

5. Attendees using mobile devices

Audience members will think you’re condescending if you tell them to close their notebook computers or to put away their tablet. They might be taking notes.

If someone’s smartphone rings, again, don’t be critical. Just joke in some way like this, “Gee I’d better check mine — my time isn’t correct.”

6. If your audience isn’t attentive

Get them engaged with you. You can ask questions to get a show of hands.

Ask them if they know each other. If not, you can suggest they take a minute to introduce themselves to the people around them.

Look for opportunities to use humor or to be self-effacing. A self-effacing joke — about your height or lack of it, your physical build, lack of hair, big ears, feet or nose or being a nerd — will work.

7. If you forget what you want to say next

First of all, act as if you’re doing well. To give yourself time to think, pause and look around or take a sip of water. If anything, your audience members will nearly be sitting on the edge of their seats eagerly anticipating your next statement.

Or engage your audience: “Hey, if  you have a comment or question now, it’s OK with me.”

8. To get out of stale or embarrassing situations, plan ahead to use some stock phrases

Don’t use trite phrases. Use your own. Or use famous quotes and naming the author but add your comment.

For example:

“Winston Churchill is well-known for saying “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Well, I wish I had his optimism right at this moment.”

In human resources training classes for clients, sometimes employees have been nervous or shy. So I’ve picked the right moment to say, “Yes, this is a difficult subject. That’s why I’m as old as I look. I’ve earned every wrinkle and gray hair.”

9. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room

Sometimes a venue has obvious shortcomings. Perhaps the wallpaper is a gauche red and gold color or the server provides cold coffee. Whatever it is, don’t ignore it. Make a gracious observation about it to help you build empathy.

The audience will overlook anything else that might occur.

From the Coach’s Corner, related speech-making strategies:

How to Get More Opportunities as a Guest Speaker — If you’re successful in generating speaking opportunities, you’ll create opportunities for your career.

Maximize Your Speaking with the Power of Pauses — Have you ever noticed why some people succeed as powerful public speakers? One salient reason is they know how to use the power of pauses.

9 Tips to Connect with People after You Make Your Speech — Typically, in making a speech at a public forum, businesspeople hope to get a return on their investment. After all, giving a great speech or serving on a panel before a targeted audience necessitates your valuable time and effort in preparation.

How to Obtain the Most Profit from Speaking Opportunities — It’s one thing to be invited to speak at your industry’s major event. But it’s another to create the right impression for your hosts, your audience and prospective customers or clients.

Public Speaking Tips – for Speeches in Accepting Awards, Honors — So you’re about to be honored for your pro bono work, volunteerism, or for creating a foundation to fund scholarships for education. But you get stage fright or don’t know how to most-effectively frame your acceptance speech?

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”

-Dale Carnegie


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Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.






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Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.