What happens if you are delivering an important training presentation and something goes horribly wrong? Michael Collins gives us 10 tips to help improve your ability to react quickly and save your presentation from disaster:
The elephant in the room
Never ignore the elephant in the room. Maybe it’s the cold coffee or the ugly wallpaper – whatever it is it will distract you and the audience. So make a friendly comment and build empathy. Then, if anything does go wrong, the audience is more likely to forgive you.
A simple phrase like 'Thank you for your contribution' or 'That’s interesting, let’s talk at the break' should allow you to regain your authority after a heckle. If all else fails, and you have the audience on your side, ask the heckler to leave. But only as a last resort.
How you react to this may well dictate the success of your presentation. If the audience can see there is a problem, ensure it is clear to them that it’s being addressed promptly - they are then less likely to blame you or be put-off.
Awkward questions are often posed in an effort to throw the speaker. Paraphrase the question and ask them directly if your understanding is correct. This allows everyone else to hear the question, will put you in control, and buy you time. If the question is deliberately antagonistic say something like; 'That’s interesting. Before I give you my answer, tell me, how would you deal with that?'
Chatter at the back of the room
As the speaker you should be in control at all times. If the audience is getting restless, suggest taking a five minute break to re-energise. If it’s just one or two people making a noise - stop, stay silent for a moment, look at them, and then ask for their permission to continue. The whisperers will stop talking because they don’t want to be the centre of attention.
Use of mobile devices
Never ask the audience to close their laptops. No one likes to be told what to do. While some may well be surfing the Internet, others may be making notes or further researching some of your topics. If a mobile goes off, don’t criticise, instead try saying 'I’d better check that mine is off'.
Not connecting with the audience
Ask questions that require a show of hands. This gets the audience involved. Suggest they take a minute to introduce themselves to the person in the next seat. Use humour to grab their attention where possible.
You freeze and lose your place
Don’t panic - there are ways out. For example; pause, take a sip of water to give yourself time to think, or, ask the audience what you last said or have an emergency line ready like 'If someone wants to jump in right here, it’s ok with me'.
Practice thinking on your feet
Public speaking groups offer the opportunity to practise thinking on your feet by giving impromptu, unprepared speeches – in an environment where failure is ok and your reputation won’t suffer. By developing these skills you’ll improve your confidence and ability to react appropriately.
Stock of phrases to get you out of difficult situations
Never resort to over-used phrases. Coin your own phrases or build up a stock of quotations with your own slant on them. Always reference the author. For example, 'Winston Churchill once said ‘A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty’, well I wish I had Churchill’s optimism right now!'
Preparation and practice are the keys to overcoming any hurdles in delivering a training presentation. Rarely does any presentation run flawlessly. Remember people may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel, so do bring that human touch to any presentation you give.
Michael Collins is from Toastmasters International - a nonprofit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in California, the organisation’s membership exceeds 292,000 in more than 14,350 clubs in 122 countries