We’ve all been there: mid performance embarrassment due to an unpredicted cape detachment incident. Possibly not. But like the high profile Brit Awards predicament for Madonna we probably have all been in situations where we are thrown by an unexpected problem when presenting. When all we want is for the ground to swallow us up and to disappear do we pack up and go home early or do we keep going? As difficult as it is we need to keep going and finish the job by being resilient and adaptable.
A lot has been written in recent times about the increased need for resilience in the workplace. Developing a thick skin and being able to persevere in difficult times is a skill that can counterbalance unpredictable obstacles. Again, this might not involve a cape or a garment of clothing but could involve software and technical issues. Film Director Michael Bay came unstuck in 2014 when presenting as a special guest for a television product launch when faced with a temperamental autocue machine. Bay’s attempts to shrug off the technical difficulties and talk passionately about how he gets to ‘dream for a living’ lasted less than a minute before he hastily left the stage. The overreliance on technology is very evident when it stops playing ball but there’s still an expectant audience that want to hear what you have to say.
Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen, described the desired state for delivering a presentation as ‘structured spontaneity’ – a bit like jazz! Structured in the sense that preparation is a priority and that no corners are cut yet also spontaneous in that the delivery is loose and able to roll with the unexpected. Steve Jobs was a master at delivering a presentation in a very natural way and making it look easy even when things didn’t go entirely to plan. Once when Jobs’ clicker stopped progressing his slides he paused to tell an anecdote about technology from his college days: the talk became even more memorable because of his resourceful approach.
So things don’t always go according to plan and there is an unpredictable aspect to presenting. As well as technical issues, responding to difficult questions, awkward delegates, the previous presenter overrunning, audience punctuality, etc can all be challenging for a presenter. But best laid plans and weeks of preparation don’t need to be ruined when faced with adversity. If we adopt a relaxed and flexible approach we can dust ourselves down, move on and cope with whatever is thrown at us. Just, maybe leave the cape at home though.