What To Do When Things Go Wrong In Presentation

Last month I stood up to begin a program with the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers and my fly was down.

Many things can go wrong when you speak.  I’ve faced a lot of them.  I’ve had projectors fail. My cell-phone has gone off.  Once, someone took a telephone call in the front row and didn’t get up to leave.   I’ve even had a painful gastro-intestinal attack.

But the open fly was a first and somewhat out of character. You see I’m paranoid about my zipper.  I have even developed a smooth little zipper check which I now pass along as a public service. I put my hand on my belt buckle and, with my pinkie finger, sneak a quick feel to make sure that all is well.  Works like a charm.

And it worked last month in front of the 20 women attorneys. The problem was that, to be effective, you should apply the Asher Zipper Check BEFORE you start speaking.

So how do you defuse presentation emergencies?

Don’t panic. Act fast. And realize that unexpected things can help your presentation.

Don’t Panic

Public speaking is an imperfect art.  Things go wrong.  Worry and frustration don’t help in front of an audience.

Instead of panicking, make a plan. I’ve had many projectors fail.  Recently, when the bulb went out in the middle of a presentation, I asked for a flip chart and moved on.

Act fast

Whatever you decide, be fast.  When my cell phone went off during a presentation, I apologized, turned it off, and continued.  When I had a stomach attack during a four-hour program, I said, “Let’s take a five minute break.”  I was the first out of the room.

When your zipper is down, speed is important.  In law school, one of my professors gave an entire 50-minute lecture with his fly down.  We all were snickering.  Afterwards, a classmate casually said “Hey professor, your fly is down.” He was embarrassed.

When I noticed mine was down, I remembered Dick Cavett.   During a television interview, Cavett noticed that his talk show guest’s fly was open.  Wanting to avert embarrassment, Cavett asked his guest to stand and turn his back to the audience. Cavett did the same and said, “One of us needs to zip up.”

During my presentation, I used a modified Cavett approach. I turned around to write something on the flip chart. As I wrote with my left hand, I zipped up with my right.  Now I suppose some of you ladies will let me know if I got away with it.

Unexpected things can help

Finally, remember that unexpected events provide an opportunity to build a relationship with the audience.

When I was speaking to 150 people at an insurance industry conference, someone in the front took a call on his mobile phone and started carrying on a conversation.  I ignored the guy. But he kept talking. I could see that lots of people were angry.

Finally, I stopped, smiled at the guy, paused for a long moment and said, “Dude?!”

Everyone cracked up.  The guy hustled out.  People applauded.  He helped me bond with the audience.

So if your zipper is down, don’t panic, act fast, and embrace the opportunity.