Learning improv techniques can save your presentations from awkward situations. Even if you’ve thoroughly prepared, you can’t account for when things go wrong.
Sure, the presentation blunders you’re likely to face won’t end with anyone’s beheading. But it’s still handy to know what to do when an unexpected power outage kills your professionally-designed PowerPoint presentation. This also allows you to know how to react when a persistent audience member starts throwing unexpected inquiries at you during the question and answer.
Keep in mind these improv techniques for the next time you see your presentation ending badly.
1. Learn to be without the script
Practicing your speech and making a script is crucial for a successful presentation. But it can also set you back when things start to deviate from your plans.
In improv, one actor imposes a scene and anyone in the scene with her is expected to go with it. When the unexpected catches you off-guard during a presentation, remain confident. Don’t panic because things didn’t go the way you saw it in your head.
2. Say “Yes, and…”
Another popular improv technique is the “Say ‘Yes, and’”. Actor-comedienne Tina Fey wrote about it in her book, Bossypants. Once an actor sets a scene, the others aren’t expected to just agree. They also have to add something to the narrative.
When you don’t lose confidence at the first sign of a slip-up, you’ll be able to say “yes” and move on. Feed off whatever happened and then stir the presentation back to where you want it. If your PowerPoint malfunctions, try to make a joke out of it.
3. You are sharing the scene
In improv, several actors work together to share a scene. One of them might have been responsible for setting the scene first, but everyone contributes for the narrative to progress.
In the same way, when you’re presenting a project to your bosses and colleagues, you have to be prepared to listen to what they have to say. If someone raises a point that you expect to tackle later on, explain that you’re going to take it up in another part of your discussion, instead of ignoring it completely.
4. Make clear statements
It’s possible that the reason your audience interrupts you is because you weren’t being very clear in the first place. Improv actors are told to be specific when they start a scene, so that their partners are clear about where to take the scene next.
If someone in the audience asks for a clarification, don’t give them a hashed response. Answer as best as you can and take the conversation from there.
5. Blunders open opportunities
Whatever you’re face with that’s off-script, take it as an opportunity to improve your presentation. Make jokes to engage your audience, or answer rude criticism with grace.
Make jokes to engage your audience, or answer rude criticism with grace.
Keep in mind that the important thing is that you get your message across. Mistakes will only ruin your presentation if you let it.
“Bossypants: Tina Fey’s Rules of Improvisation.” BulletProof Presentations. May 23, 2011. Accessed June 4, 2014.
Featured image from HBO