A Case of Presentation Nerves

Michael Bay is having a rough day. If you haven’t seen the footage of his mishap at CES this morning, take 90 seconds to watch it here.

Or if you’re an extreme introvert or glossophobe, read Mr. Bay’s account of the incident below. Or Nick Morgan’s insightful synopsis here.

Wow! I just embarrassed myself at CES – I was about to speak for Samsung for this awesome Curved 105-inch UHD TV. I rarely lend my name to any products, but this one is just stellar. I got so excited to talk, that I skipped over the Exec VP’s intro line and then the teleprompter got lost. Then the prompter went up and down – then I walked off. I guess live shows aren’t my thing.”

This situation is unfortunate, but it isn’t news.

And honestly, it may be the best thing that ever happened to Samsung’s marketing campaign. Standing out at CES is tough to do.

Technical mishaps just like this have happened to some of the world’s greatest speakers. During the 2007 iPhone launch, Steve Jobs’ clicker stopped working. How did he react? With humor. He shared an anecdote that made the audience laugh, diffusing the tension and—more importantly—buying time to resolve the issue.

To dominate your next live presentation, here’s some simple advice:

Don’t rely on technology.

When’s the last time you put all your faith in technology and it worked out for you? When you put faith in yourself, you put yourself in control of the situation. You may not be able to avoid technology altogether, but if you prepare for the worst case scenario, you’ll be able to handle issues elegantly. If that means keeping notecards in your back pocket, do it.

Rehearse past memorization.

Many, many speakers avoid rehearsal, claiming they “don’t want to sound rehearsed.” I don’t want that either. But avoiding rehearsal isn’t the answer. Practicing more is. Rehearse so often that you begin to riff and improvise on the content. That’s where you want to be. I know it’s not what you want to hear. But doing well is rarely done by doing less work.

Focus on your audience, not your anxiety.

As a presenter, focusing on your own feelings is actually quite selfish. Succumbing to your own anxiety means you’re neglecting your audience. And in most cases, including Mr. Bay’s, the audience wants you to do well. Nobody wants to watch a presenter struggle—it’s painful. By concentrating on creating a good experience for your audience, you unwittingly take the pressure off of yourself. Win-win.

Stage fright can induce one of our most deep seated instincts: fight or flight. We know which one Michael Bay chose. But it’s important to keep things in perspective. Remember that it’s not a fight. It’s just a presentation. No matter how it goes, life will go on. Everything will be okay, even if you pull a Michael Bay.

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