Public speaking gaffes
Getting past the oops moment: Taking the podium
NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - You're giving a career-making presentation to the whole company. The computer with your PowerPoint slides malfunctions.
Don't fiddle with your computer in front of an audience. If it's not fixed in two minutes, ask for a short recess. When Josh Thacker stood up at the Hilton hotel in Austin last May to give a lunchtime demonstration of his company's trade-show software in front of 100 people, he felt good. He had flown in a day early to practice, and it had gone perfectly.
But five minutes into his introduction, his computer locked up. Thacker was worried that the audience would blame the software, so he asked the next presenter to go ahead and left the stage to reboot. That fixed the problem.
Use humor. The audience will be as uncomfortable about your contretemps as you, so loosen everyone up with a joke. When Thacker returned, he said, "I could use a drink. In fact, using our software, I can type in 'beer' and search for exhibitors hosting a reception during this event." Instant laughs.
"I got lots of compliments on my recovery -- and several sales too," he says.
Don't dwell on what happened. And certainly don't overapologize. "If you say 'I'm sorry' too much, it only highlights the mistake," says Corby O'Connor, who teaches business etiquette to corporations.
Tip: Bring enough hard copies for everyone in attendance.
You're trying to impress a client at a meeting. He's whispering and not paying attention.
Ask a question or request input. Group participation will usually get him engaged.
Speak his name. Quickly think of a way to use it in the context of your presentation. Say something like, "Mr. Bipsnit made an excellent point on this topic the other day." Hearing his own name will snap his attention back to what you're saying. Especially if his name is Mr. Bipsnit.
In the middle of your brilliant speech to shareholders, the microphone dies.
Don't stop. Last April, when actor Jeff Daniels was performing a song during a live broadcast of Country Music Television's video awards, his mike died mid-lyric. He didn't miss a beat, breaking into a monologue until a stagehand came out with a new microphone.
"Things go wrong, but the audience pulls for you," he said later. "They don't want you to collapse and be embarrassed."
Walk around to make sure everyone can hear you. Getting physically closer to the audience will focus their attention on what you're saying, says Lenny Laskowski, a seminar consultant in Stratford, Conn. and the author of "10 Days to More Confident Public Speaking."
Adapt. Poll the audience by hollering out questions. "I have huge respect for people who can manage themselves and an audience," says Steve Sickel, a senior marketing executive at InterContinental Hotels.
"If something goes wrong, it's not a reflection of the person's ability. But someone who can adapt and recover -- that's a skill, and it says a lot about their ability to think on their feet."
How to deal with: