Murphy’s Law — if things can go wrong, they will — applies in spades whenever you’re giving a presentation. It is especially true whenever computers and projectors are involved.

While you can’t anticipate exactly what will go wrong during any particular presentation, you can plan for any number of possibilities..

If Your Equipment Breaks Down…

  • If at all possible, be prepared to replace key equipment on the spot.
  • Focus on the audience and on your message, not on the problem. As you work on a solution, keep your audience involved. If you can’t quickly resolve the problem, go on with your presentation as best you can.
  • Bring handouts. Make copies of your slides to distribute as you speak, if necessary.
  • Use humor to relieve audience tension. When her computer crashes, one speaker says, “A TV can insult your intelligence, but it takes a computer to make you feel like a total idiot.” Direct your humor at the situation or at yourself, never at another person.

If You Forget Your Place in a Speech or Your Mind Goes Blank…

  • Back up. Summarize the point you just finished making. Often, repeating your previous point, like retracing your steps before taking a leap, will give you momentum to carry you forward.
  • Check your notes.
  • Ask your audience for help. Say, “I got so caught up in what I was saying that I lost my place. Where was I?” Someone will tell you. (This is especially true if earlier in your introduction you enumerated your main points.)
  • Say something. Say anything. The longer you remain silent, grasping for exactly the right word, the more your anxiety (and the audience’s) will grow. Try to recall anything relevant to your speech, the audience, or the occasion, and say it. Once you begin talking, your memory will mostly likely kick into gear.
  • Check your attitude. Perfectionism is the undoing of many speakers. It’s based on the illusion that if we work hard enough, we can avoid making mistakes, losing control, or looking foolish. Don’t try to give a flawless presentation; focus instead on serving your audience to the best of your ability.
  • Remember that your audience wants you to succeed.

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Check out How to Connect with your Audience and Yourself or But Is It True? (Speaking the Truth).

Chris Witt, a coach based in San Diego, works with executives and with technical experts who want to give more effective presentations. If you’re interested in learning more about how you could benefit from his coaching, contact him for a complimentary call.