Practical Steps to take if you feel your presentation is going horribly wrong

By Sudha Mani, Toastmasters International 

Do you feel a twinge of trepidation at the thought of giving a speech or presentation?  If so, this may be because you’re imagining something going wrong. Many of us have had that experience. Luckily there are ways to handle these feelings and make sure that every presentation has a positive and productive outcome.


In my experience, the following are the main ways that presentation can have a wobble: Tech issues, tricky audiences, brain fog and the Question and Answer (Q&A) session.

Let’s look at each scenario and the practical ways you can handle them.

Tech issues

The technical glitch is genuinely outside your control that is because, you’ve practised using this presentation, arrived early at the venue, and tested audio-visual successfully and it worked then, but when it came to the presentation delivery, something has gone wrong. In this situation, I suggest the following:

a). Breathe and detach.

Breathe in slowly and exhale slowly for about 20 seconds. Allowing the technical person to troubleshoot and solve the issue.  If it takes a while keep breathing, move away, and detach. 

b)Have a time-filler.

While waiting for the techie to fix the problem keep the audience engaged.  For example, ask the audience a question which relates to the outcome of the presentation.  Give three seconds to answer and then move on with a few others.  This can be very effective to loosen people up and make them think.  

I also like this one: ask everyone to stand up, shake their arms, legs and shoulders, say hello and high-five to the individuals next to them. Just before they sit, ask them to say one good thing that has happened to them so far that day.  This is effective as it creates rapport, loosens everyone up and creates a receptive mode for when things get going again.


c). Have your presentation printout with notes 

Many of you may do this already, but when you make it a habit, you have both a hand-out and a way to continue delivering your speech without the slides


d). Be Authentic and own the imperfections.

Research has shown that when you own your imperfection people like you more.  Everyone knows that he or she is imperfect in one way or other.  They have more empathy for you when things genuinely go wrong.  Remember, people like people who are most like themselves; authentic.  

Challenging audiences 

As a speaker or presenter, we must be able to handle and work the room.  If the situation is challenging, we can take back control by reframing the scenario in our favour.  The reframing technique is one that many Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioners use. 

For example: 

a). The Silent or Introvert audience. They are silent, and there is very little interaction. They appear to have been forced to attend. 

  • Ask them easy questions which they can answer almost instinctively.
  • Encourage them when they respond to you.
  • Ask these questions using their first name and request all to participate. 

b).The Smartphone enthusiasts. You cannot escape this group of individuals unless you confiscate their phones. Instead, use the following strategies with these die-hard social media enthusiasts.

  • Sometimes if your message is critical and you don’t want the audience to be distracted, provide an explicit instruction at the start of the meeting that all mobiles phones are put on silent mode or switched off during the presentation.
  • Create a hash tag (#) for your event. Ask the enthusiasts to promote it along with sharing the summary of the presentation and learnings; before after and during the break.

c). Distracting noises and events. There is always a person who forgets to switch their devices off even after all the reminders. If it’s you – then switch it off, apologise, and carry on. Always check your phone for alarms and reminders before the meeting.   If you have an assistant or a friend with you at the seminar or presentation, consider giving your phone to them to manage any mishaps while you are presenting. 


d). The Interrupter. We have all experienced the individual who interrupts you, corrects you, heckles and grabs all the attention towards themselves.  

  • Politely take the control back when the individual is pausing. Thank them for contributing and invite them on stage to pose their questions for all the audience to hear.   I did this with a person known for interrupting. Calling his bluff meant he said nothing for the rest of the workshop.
  • Do not make eye contact with the interrupter. Only make eye-contact when you are giving them a cue to speak at appropriate times.


e). The Disruptor

You mostly encounter people like this in business meetings.  They are passive aggressive, or ask inappropriate questions.  They may do this especially when their peers are around to show what they know, do not trust the speaker or the solution, being offered.

Handle these people very carefully because they are usually one of the decision makers or individuals with authority who may make or break a deal or damage your credibility. There may be times when you are unfortunate enough to be caught in the middle of a discussion or issue.  The following strategies may help you to handle this situation:

  • Listen. Listen to the person, thank them, let them know that it 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 by saying something like; “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 ok with you? Thanks a lot”.

Brain Fog

No matter how much preparation we do before a presentation, you might still be unlucky and suffer from brain fog.  Then, what do you do?  

  • Don’t Panic – Look down for a few seconds and look up.  Smile randomly at your audience from the far back to the front.  Remember the smile is contagious, and they will smile back.  When you are gazing at the audience, it creates an immediate rapport.  It is the most natural tactic to build rapport.  If you are on video, look directly at the lens so when people view the big screen, they will know you are smiling at them.
  • Pause – When you pause, you insert anticipation. Silence gets the attention.
  • Take a sip of water – Always have a small water bottle with you during the presentation it will be useful when the organiser forgets to put one on the lectern or podium.  It helps relax your throat in times of stress and will buy you a few seconds when you need them. 
  • Notes – Refer to your notes so that you can recollect your thoughts to continue.
  • Breathe and carry on.

Questions & Answers (Q & A)

Many presentations have questions toward the end of the session. Two things may happen in the Q & A:

  1. A silent audience. You may not get questions from the audience immediately. So, pause and then have your organiser ask a prepared question. I usually give a query or two, relevant to the presentation, to the organiser before the event and ask him/her to kick-off the Q & A session.
  2. Objections. Answer the objections – these often trigger others to ask a relevant question.  Never give the control to the audience.  You are the expert facilitator, so be sure to take the power back smoothly and seamlessly if some, or all of the audience attempts to highjack the Q & A.

With Q&A remember to finish on a positive note. Before you go on stage, ask the organiser to indicate when you have just five minutes are left. When you see that signal, take a couple minutes to answer the next question, three minutes to summarise your solution reiterating your call-to-action. 

It is no surprise that thing do go wrong from time to time. I hope the tips you have here reassure you that you can cope with whatever happens and give a powerful and polished presentation.




Sudha Mani is from Toastmasters International a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit   @Toastmasters


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