Dealing with the Unexpected? Go with the flow
By Peter Watts
Two little words that while vaguely profane, sum up most of the misfortunes that befall and befuddle presenters.
I don’t normally advocate dwelling on the nature of what can go wrong, but for the purposes of this post, it would be helpful.
- The audience could be scarily bigger or depressingly smaller than expected
- The venue could have a sub-optimal or non-negotiable room layout
- The main target for your presentation could walk in 15 minutes late or have to leave 15 minutes early
- And don’t even get me started on what can go wrong with the technology!
Thoroughly plan and prepare your presentation by all means. It’s essential. Only a fool walks onto a stage unprepared. At the same time though, when the circumstances around you unexpectedly change and Captain Chaos flies across the room, be ready to embrace your own inner Captain Chaos and improvise like a pro.
Planning and preparation is a life-jacket not a strait-jacket. When your presentation has to make an emergency landing on water, that life-jacket of preparation acts purely as a buoyancy aid to keep you afloat. You then have a choice; lamely bob up and down in the tide or use the power of free will to pick a new direction in which to paddle.
Stay loose and start paddling and you’ll survive.
One of the best presentations I ever had the privilege to witness was from the Chief Operating Officer of a major multinational brand. Known for his clinically organised and analytically thorough presentations, precision and planning were his watchwords. And then one day, a minute into a critical presentation, the bulb in the projector popped.
Hotel staff scurried in every direction, but a replacement bulb was nowhere to hand.
The presenter looked at the audience and uttered the same opening words that I used to open this blog. He then delivered one of the best presentations I have ever heard.
This incredibly senior, and incredibly organised gentleman had not been thrown off balance by Captain Chaos, but instead had cheerfully embraced him.
Control-freakery is a form of perfectionism, and perfectionism doesn’t belong in the realm of the presenter. Audiences are human and they respond to human and as we all know, humans are seldom perfect.
When Captain Chaos strikes, it’s your heaven-sent opportunity to shine.
Shit happens. Stay loose. Set a direction and start paddling.
The audience will love you for it.