How to Turn Around Your Presentation When Something Has Gone Wrong

turn around presentation going wrong
As a small business owner, you may be giving a presentation to customers, at a networking event, to potential investors or for staff training.

What will you do if your presentation is turning out to be a nightmare: projector’s not working, presentation not displaying as you want or you have the audience from hell? How can we turn a challenging presentation into a winning one?

From my experience as a business owner and public speaker the following are the main scenarios where your presentation can go wrong; if you have a process to follow then you can turn your sinking presentation to a memorable one. The scenarios are:

  1. The Technical Issues
  2. Answering Audience Questions
  3. The Disruptive Audience
  4. Your Voice Goes AWOL.

1. The Technical Issues

The technical issues are outside your control even if you are a technical person. What do you do when the presentation you have cannot be projected? In this situation, you should take the following steps;

a) Breathe

If you are in a situation where there are technical people to help let them get on with their hob. In the meantime, you need to take a deep breath and then concentrate on your audience. They are your responsibility, not the presentation.

b) Have a game or two in your presentation arsenal

While the technical guys are troubleshooting take that time to create rapport with the audience. As a presenter and business owner more time to create rapport with the audience is a positive. Use this time to create just that.

So, what is the quickest way to create a mass rapport? Games. When people play games their minds are open to find solutions. They can be fun and relax the audience to create rapport.

According to research when we are having fun we learn and retain information for longer. As business owners, we want our audience to remember our product, solution and our company. When you are in their mind for longer you have more chances of making the sale. So have a game or two in your arsenal.

c) Have copies of your presentation just in case

Many of you may already do this, but when make sure we always have presentation copies with us, you can hand the presentation out and start the presentation. This will be very helpful if you (or even technical people) cannot revive the presentation.

Audiences won’t mind sharing so have enough copies bearing in mind whether people are sitting at tables or in rows (where sharing beyond two people will be less easy).

d) Own your imperfections

We all know no one is perfect. We can be forgiving towards others on their imperfections, while being very hard on ourselves. Much research shows that when we own our imperfection, people like us more and audiences will be more accepting.

In summary don’t allow yourself to get over-stressed. Audiences will accept things going wrong if you handle them well.

2. Answering Audience Questions

Unless it is a keynote, many presentations have a Q & A session. I have been to a few events where they ask keynote speakers to be part of a panel to answer the questions of the audience as well.

If your presentations have questions toward the end of the session, especially if it is an informative or business presentation then you have more chances of your presentation going wrong. The following strategies may help you in these situations:

a) The audience is silent

The audience may go voiceless when you open the floor for a Q&A. At this point, the host of the event will feel pressured to ask a possibly lame question.

Rather than risk this, prepare a few questions which your audience might have and give it to your host or event organiser to kickstart the session if needed. I would suggest picking a possible objection to some aspect of what you’ve been saying. This may sound counterproductive, but believe me; handle this well and it will save time and convert many audiences to your point of view.

b) Always end with your call to action

Never finish your presentation with a Q&A or let your host finish the presentation; end your presentation with your call to action. Time your presentation. Orchestrate it in such a way that you have 5-7 mins left before you are scheduled to finish. Summarise the speech in your favour by reiterating the strong points and finish with your call to action.

c) Handling high-jackers

You may sometimes get people who are difficult, or try to highjack your Q&A. If this is the case you need my suggestions below on handling the disruptive person.

3. The Disruptive Audience

As a presenter or speaker, we have to take control of the audience. There may be situations where you have to work the room in your favour.

One of quickest technique to take control is through reframing the scenario. There are 4 types of disruptive audience; they can challenge even a very level headed presenter.

Use these quick reframing techniques with the following types of challenges:

a) The Introvert or quiet audience

This type of audience may be unresponsive and you may start wondering if you are connecting with them or not. Mind-reading is dangerous so try and gently get a response from them by;

  • Asking them easy questions which they can answer almost instinctively; for example; be direct and ask what would you say if someone asked your name… you would say your name right ? Then, follow it with, what did you say your name was?
  • Acknowledging them when they respond to you
  • Addressing them with their first name and encouraging them to express their point of view.

b) The Smartphone Enthusiasts

This type of audience is one you cannot avoid nowadays. Towards the start of the meeting tell them they need to switch off their phones or put them on silent – to avoid distraction for others. Then give them clear instructions on how they can help using their smart phones. If they are social media enthusiasts;

  • Create a hashtag (#) for your event. Ask the enthusiasts to promote the event and their summary of the event during their break. That you will choose the best tweet or post after the event and broadcast. This strategy makes them listen and tweet because they don’t want to look like they didn’t listen.

c) The Interrupter

This type of individual is the hardest to handle. They consider themselves experienced and may well interrupt you, correct you, heckle and grab attention. I’ve had great success with the following strategies on handling these individuals;

  • Either ask them a question which would be difficult for them to answer or while they are answering politely take the control back when the individual is pausing.
  • Do not make eye contact with the interrupter if you want them to be quiet. Then do make eye contact with them so that they know it is the cue for them to speak at appropriate times.

d) The Disruptor

You will come across this type of individual often in business meetings. Their body language may suggest they are bored or have been required to come to the meeting.

Handle these people very carefully just in case they turn out to be one of the decision makers or individuals with authority. The following strategies may help you to reframe this situation:

  • Listen to the person, thank them, and let them know that the point can be revisited at the end of the meeting after the Q & A period.
  • Cut them off. When their turn comes, give them a minute and a half. Then politely, cut them off without making it obvious. One ethical way to say is “you seem to have quite strong views on this subject, can we take it outside this meeting as we are running out of time. Hope that is alright with you? Thank you”.

4. Your Voice Goes AWOL

You have prepared for the presentation, created rapport with the audience, tech is behaving, you have the best audience any speaker can ask for; what happens if you start coughing insistently or your mouth dries up?

At this point, your train of thought and voice will go AWOL or you may come to an abrupt halt; this can happen to all of us once in a while. What can you do? I suggest this process

  • Look down for a few seconds
  • Look up
  • Smile randomly at your audience; don’t sweep but be deliberate. When you are deliberate this gives the audience the feeling that you are connecting with them. This sends a signal to your brain that all is well, and you are OK to carry on with your presentation
  • Pause; both to keep calm and because this creates anticipation with the audience
  • Have a sip of water – always have a water bottle with you during the presentation; sometimes organisers forget.
  • Refer to the notes
  • Breathe and carry on.

Final Thoughts

I hope the information in this article equips you to ace your presentation by taking control. Whether it’s a sales pitch, keynote or just another business presentation you will come out as an expert. Rock that presentation and never ever suffer a failed presentation again.

About the author

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Sudha Mani from Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches communication and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. With 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland, you can find your local club at

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