Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Dodging Tomatoes: How To Recover From Presentation Bloopers
"What To Say When You're Dying On The Platform," written by the late
Lilly Walters, is packed with panaceas for presentation problems. Here
are some ways to handle just a few sweaty palm moments you might have
from Lilly and from me.
1. What do you do if your joke bombs?
It's not the end of the world if your mirth has no worth. In fact, it
can be an opportunity to get a laugh by using your recovery line. In a
recent presentation, I commented that someone in the audience had said
I was spry. No one laughed. So, I said, "I didn't think it was funny
either." That line got a laugh.
Here are some comeback suggestions from a few professional speakers.
"OK...here's another one you might not care for." Ron Dentinger.
"That was a joke designed to get a silent laugh....and it worked."
"Well, my Mom liked it." Ken Blanchard.
I've been known to say, "Gee. I thought that was so funny. I guess
that joke was just for me."
2. You lose your train of thought or have a brain freeze.
Always have a glass of water handy. Take a sip, relax, look at your
notes and then proceed.
I've been known to say, "Pardon me. My brain just went to the
Bahamas." This gets a laugh, relaxes me and gives me time to get back
I've also been known to ask the audience, "Where was I?" They think
that's funny and honest. Someone in the audience is always happy to
get me back on track.
Have some group exercises ready so the audience can get busy while
you regroup. For instance, say to the audience, "Find a partner and
discuss the most helpful thing you've heard today." Or, " Find a
partner. One of you will take the Pro side and one the Con side. Now
discuss the value of facebook (or bananas or Congress)." Be sure your
activity is related to your topic and that you debrief the discussion
Two comeback lines are:
"I seem to have lost my train of thought. Train? It's more like I
lost the whole railroad." Roger Langley
"I have a great memory, but it's short." Terry Paulson
3. You trip on the way to the podium.
I always trip over something. The wires, the carpet, the table, the
stairs. I try to turn it into a joke instead of getting flustered.
I've been known to say, "That's the way I planned it." Or, "Now that
I've gotten that out of the way." This takes the audience from anxiety
to ease. They know I'm human and that's a good thing.
A few comeback phrases are:
"I also do magic tricks." Tom Antion
"Did you notice the word "graceful" wasn't in my introduction?" Terry
"I'm a trained professional. Don't try this at home." From Current
4. You have a heckler or take-over person in your audience.
If you poke fun or attack the heckler, the audience will side with
the heckler. He or she is one of their peers. Even if the heckler
irritates the audience, you'll lose if you attack. One suggestion is
to walk over to the heckler. Put your hand on his or her shoulder, and
continue with your program.
If the same person keeps asking questions, I shift my physical
position so my back is partially toward the scalawag. Then I
generalize the question for everyone else. I'm careful not to go back
to the heckler to give him/her more attention.
Ask the heckler to identify himself and his company. Do this in a
non-threatening way. Demonstrate that you're about to write down his
name and company. This usually stops him and any others from being
Answer hecklers' questions seriously. Ask the rest of the audience
how they feel about the issue. This gets the attention off the heckler
and often proves that his issue is baseless without your having to
point it out.
If a group is carrying on a conversation while you or an audience
member is speaking, ask the whole group to hold their comments until
the break. Or, you can walk over to them and stand next to them. Keep
A few comments that might work are:
"I do a single." Roger Burgraff.
"Oh, good, another speaker. I was afraid I was going to have to do
this alone." Ron Dentinger
"You have the right to remain silent." Jack Anderson
I suggest you use these judiciously. As a woman, I think men can get
away with a jab better than a woman. In my experience, a woman may
seem harsh saying some of these.
The important thing to remember if you goof up is that the audience
does not want to see you sweat. They don't want you to apologize
profusely for being human. You are the speaker. Perfection is not
expected, but you are expected to handle whatever happens during your
Instead of dodging those tomatoes, catch them and turn them into your
spicy secret sauce.