Every fantastic presenter you’ve seen has had a nightmare experience like this one. They’ve bombed massively. But they used that experience to learn the hard way how to recover.
“What do you mean? I thought I did a great presentation – I had so much information in it, it had to make me look smart!” This was the reaction from a newly minted marketing vice president after I asked him if he had grown up in accounting. He was giving his first run-through for his first major speech to a very Type A global audience.
It stunk because it was so long and convoluted, no one would have been able to follow it. It was a classic case of intentions not matching perceptions. His intention was to impress his senior management audience with all he knew. The perception? I don’t know, because I was asleep after the first seven minutes.
Ever felt like passing out?
Of course, who am I to throw stones? After all, I’m only the communications coach who nearly fainted at one of her big stage presentations two decades ago. I know exactly what he meant when he thought ten pounds of material in a five pound bag was success! And while he turned it around through coaching to do a fantastic debut presentation, I didn’t follow my own advice – and paid the price.
The big ouch
Anyone with a pulse knows that when your audience starts walking out on you that you’ve blown it. At that moment, it didn’t matter that I was just following the marching orders of the meeting planner, who wanted a lot of material covered. It didn’t matter that I completely neglected to follow the cardinal rule of presentations, know your audience. All that mattered was how I was going to stay on my feet to finish this one! I was within seconds of completely passing out in front of 500 people one terrifying afternoon in St. Louis.
The #1 fear
The “whoosh-whoosh” sounds in my ear were getting so loud, I was certain the entire audience could hear them. Everything got gray and fuzzy in my peripheral field of vision. I began to l-e-a-n ….. ever so slowly to the right, grasping the podium as my knees began to buckle. In the back of my mind (the part of my mind that wasn’t dedicated to survival!) I could really, truly understand in those moments why the fear of public speaking is greater than the fear of death.
Drowning in flop sweat, I managed to mumble out the closing remarks. domain whois information I felt like a complete idiot. And no, I didn’t pass out. I didn’t die, at least, not medically. But it was a form of death to feel like such a failure. Since I was scheduled to speak on the same topic in Boston, two weeks later, I knew very well that decades before anyone had ever heard of social media, the word had already gotten out on the way I had bombed in St. Louis. I was terrified of a repeat performance.
So, with absolutely nothing left to lose (except my lunch!) I decided to explore what had not worked the first time. 75% of the content got cut. I started to do live coaching with audience members to get them engaged.
What happened in Boston? It worked. Got a standing ovation – and nearly passed out again with gratitude!
Take the risk to learn from failure
Trust me, every fantastic presenter you’ve seen has had a nightmare experience like this one. They’ve bombed massively. But they used that experience to learn the hard way how to recover. Sometimes, you can turn it around in the moment, and if you can, fantastic. But even if it all implodes, don’t run from presentations. Buck up, consider it relatively cheap emotional tuition and add it to your tool kit for recovery from a bombed presentation in the future. Let it be your impetus to understand what happened so it never happens again – at least, not in the same way!
Carol Keers Vice President, Change Masters, Incorporated