When Things Go Wrong: Slow Down To Speed Up

Things go wrong during presentations. There’s no way to entirely prevent that from happening. What you can control is your reaction to what goes wrong—and people who react well during tough moments take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to impress their audiences.

Let’s say your PowerPoint projector suddenly goes dead. Many speakers would immediately get nervous, scramble frantically to reconnect the wires, and apologize to their audiences for the glitch (“I’m so sorry, I tested this before I began. This is so embarrassing!”).

Instead, the best thing to do during those moments is to slow down. Everyone in the room knows the projector just went dead. Calmly—and deliberately—turn to the projector to check the connections. Calmly check the power supply. Calmly press the on-off switch. If none of those things work, calmly look up and ask someone to get help—or, even better, tell the audience you’ll try to fix the equipment during the next break but that you’re going to keep going.

No apologies, no excuses. Just a professional speaker reacting to an unexpected technical failure with an impressive display of control.

Man Zen Yoga Rock PPT iStock Photo

The same strategy applies if you misplace a page in your notes. Stop talking, slowly flip through your notes to locate the correct page, and calmly look up and resume your talk when you find it.

The same strategy applies if your microphone cuts in and out. Calmly smile and request a new microphone or, for smaller audiences, go without one.

I call this “slowing down to speed up” because I’ve regularly observed that speakers who slow down during challenging moments solve their challenges more quickly. (Although I came up with that phrase independently, many others have used that phrase in similar contexts.)

Finally, consider selling unexpected circumstances as a virtue. For example, most speakers are mortified when only six people show up to their breakout room that was set for one hundred. Instead, sell it as a positive to the six people who showed up: “I’m so glad this is a small group, because we’ll have an opportunity to really talk and help solve one another’s challenges. How about you all move up to the front, I’ll come join you, and we’ll just talk?”

Remember: When things go wrong, project a quiet calm. Slow down to speed up.

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