Presentation Skills – 10 Things That Will Go Wrong and How to Come Out Looking Like a Pro

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So imagine you’re a newer guy at a company, fresh into management, and you get tapped by the company president to be the presenter at an industry event. It’s your first real chance to step out of the average Joe rank and file sales role and be seen as a leader, an innovator, and a person on the way up. It’s a Thursday night and after a long day of meetings and breakout sessions the tour bus is buzzing with industry facts and gossip as you’re carted from time square to Battery park in New York City. In my case I had been in the industry a little over 3 years and this was my first big public presentation. I had been pitching and meeting quite successfully under the watchful eye of the company owner and had garnered a seemingly bright future. I chatted calmly with a group of executives from my customers, but this night was as much social as anything , many of them had their spouses in tow. We get on a boat destined for the dinner event on Ellis Island a historic location and a historic even was about to happen to my career.

After wandering those historic halls, imagining them filled with the hopes and dreams of the newly arrived immigrants, and taking in the sight of the city off in the distance everyone was seated in The Great Hall for dinner and the presentations. My nerves started to build but I had done my home work. I knew my deck, understood the key talking points for that night as well as anything in life. If anything I had over prepared nothing could stop me and in 45 short minutes I planned to announce my arrival and unleash my own ambitious hopes and dreams on my industry. Like so many dreams it didn’t quite happen like I imagined.

The first speaker was introduced and went on. The public address system was at best horrendous. Sound was just bouncing mercilessly thought the hall. Words were completely unintelligible, still the speaker ahead of me blithered on as the audience who were disinterested in interrupting their dinner conversations looked on in disgust. The presenter before me started yelling into the microphone; now the effect was an angry version of Charlie Brown’s teacher echoing and reverberating at an increasing decibel level. I stood there terrified. My company had paid 15,000 dollars for me to give my talk and I was faced to making a decision on how to proceed when my turn came. Which brings us to the real topic at hand- 10 things that will go wrong at a presentation and how to make the most out of a less than ideal situation.

1) Sound equipment fails – the reality is that most presentations don’t require a public address system and microphones but believe it or not more do than you realize and leading a break out group at an industry trade show or conference is one of those situations. If you’re in a large room make sure you meet the AV guy before you go on. If there is a spare microphone know who as it or where it is at and most importantly how to turn it on. If it’s a midsized to small room asked the audience members to move closer, speak up and move off the podium and down toward those listening to you. It lends itself to more interaction anyhow.

2) Your Slides aren’t available – what do you mean my slides aren’t available….well PC’s crash , projector bulbs burn out and in some cases people just assume that its not a formal presentation and don’t make arrangements. First off always and I mean always have a final version hard copy of your slides it gives you options For Small groups there is the copy machine so everybody gets their own. For large groups it’s a reference point.

Get an always have a USB drive with your deck on it. I have a good friend who roams the country and has his slides on two USB’s and an external hard drive just in case this solves a lot of issues should your PC crash.

3) Huge Room but few attendees – A big conference room with a handful of people while not ideal isn’t as bad as the trade show presentation where you’re booked in a room for 250 people and only 20 show up. It might be the time slot and not the topic. Sure you can pull the delusional rock star thing and present like it’s a standing room only crowd but rather than doing that what about once again asking the people to move closer, step out from behind the podium. I’ve gone as far as turning it into a round table type presentation. More of a personalized conversation in tone and delivery. It’s a chance to establish yourself as an expert on a personal level.

4) The neigh sayers or hecklers – So the guy in the audience wants to be the star. This happens in a variety of ways; either questions that are intended to shake you, a line of comments and questions that take you off topic and run you down a rat hole, or they are not so much hiding their personal agenda. Depending on the person in question and type of presentation you can offer to follow up with them individually after the presentation, if it’s a sales presentation and their role is significant within the customer then it’s a chance to get their objections on the table and meet them head on. If it’s a pure heckler in a large group the direct approach often works by acknowledging them and their question, point out if it’s off topic or if it is give a brief answer and offer to see them right after the presentation and go into as much detail as they’d like.

5) Interruptions – I love interruptions since they come in all shapes and sizes from an admin who came in, to calls from home saying the kids are sick and asking your audience to pick them up school. Fire alarms, tornado sirens, and all kinds of weather phenomena add to the diversity of this one. In this case make the most of the situation, be understanding, be compassionate, and if the situation isn’t tragic a little well placed humor can allow you to use the unique experience in future sales calls and presentations as a way to make a connection on a different level.

6) The non-present in and out audience member Personally I find this one to be a real challenge in recent years; the in and out meeting attendees and the ever present Blackberry addict. In general it shows a lack of respect for the presenter. One glance down is forgivable, a few quick responses almost tolerable but if all they do is type away on a crack berry then there few things you can do to change it other than asking them to stop. Which is fine in an internal meeting, S ales presentation though is different. Putting on my sales hat I’d say either you’re presenting the wrong message or to the wrong person. If it’s the later then this is someone you may want to reconsider doing business with. If they won’t focus on something they should be involved and interested in then crucial details will get missed and that never makes for a happy vendor customer relationship. Change who you’re working with or go find someone else to sell to.

7) Change in Venue – This one be prepared to roll with it, so what if a meeting went from the small conference room to the VP’s office. So what? If at a conference your room is changed asked to have a reminder made in the general session, prepare to start a few minutes later than scheduled to allow folks to get there and get settled in.

8) They changed the length of the presentation – It happens and as long as it happens for a good reason you have two choices, adjusting your talking time or offering to reschedule. If you are in the adjust the time option for your presentation then make sure you can hit the high points, drive home the value of your message and still leave them with a powerful call to action. If you reschedule your presentation for another time then go for it.

9) A different audience – This can be a challenge. If you are expecting to speak to a sales team and it turns out to be the finance team the delivery might miss the mark. If you are expecting an audience filled with lay people and then it turns out to be a technically inclined group you’ll need to adjust what degree of detail your message is delivered with. A mixed audience is even harder so make sure that there is something in the presentation for everyone. Keep in mind that the old saying “you can’t be all things to all people” certainly holds true. Make everyone feel loved and important but focused on the key objectives and who needs to get that part of your message loud and clear.

10) From Formal to informal or Vice Versa- So a formal presentation but no podium – get over it you’re not a professor or the president so you should stop hiding behind it any way. I hate podiums so there is a bit of personal bias here. If it’s a small group in a conference room sit with the others. Even if you’re using slides, be the audience member’s equal not towering over them. So what if it goes to from over a conference room table to over lunch. The truth is its easier to go from formal to informal. Adjust your tone, and method of delivery without compromising your message and key points and things really will be just fine.

So back to where the story began, what happened as I stood there at Ellis Island in front of a few hundred people who mattered and had the ability to give me more new business than I dreamed of? I did what all good presenter do when faced with an obstacle , used my judgment and made the best of it. After an inaudible introduction by the conference organizer through the PA I walked to the center of the Great hall where the tables were set up. I opted to go without the microphone and spoke as loud as I could without shouting. In total I spoke in front of the group for about 90 seconds out of my 45 minutes thanking everyone for attending, recognizing a few key accounts of our in attendance as a reference as to the quality of our work, and simply offered that I’d stop by their tables to introduce myself. Instead of one big 45 minute presentation I turned the time into a series of personalized conversations. Even after my window expired I had people seeking me out to talk more and hear what I had to say. The audience appreciated the fact I spared their ears which led to more opportunities. Was it the right thing to do? In that case it worked, I found new business and didn’t get fired. The most important part of handling things that go wrong in a presentation is be prepared to adjust what you do to accommodate the situation and make sure that the audience still gets your message and know what to do with it.

Tim Kubiak is a self proclaimed Sales Geek and Social Media addict. By day he continues to be lucky enough to work in sales and sales management just as he has for the past 20 years. At night Tim is a regular contributor at the The UnNatural Salesman and is currently doing data collection for the upcoming Sales Career Resource Guide Sales Career Resource Guide

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