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How to Face Unexpected Presentation Scenarios

While communication, nonverbal cues, and PowerPoint design are all very crucial, there’s one thing that will help you survive any scenario when in front of an audience. That’s to expect the unexpected, especially when you think you’ve got everything planned out.

Even as you prepare for your presentation, there are certain scenarios you won’t be able to foresee. There are things that could happen beyond your control. When that happens, most people get stuck and feel like they failed.

This doesn’t have to be the case if you can adapt to your predicament. When the worst happens, it’s better to face it head on. If you can’t be flexible in front of an audience, you run the risk of stumbling and falling.

Improv actors have mastered this skill with their spontaneous skits and quick thinking. To keep your own performance sharp, here are important improvisation tips to keep in mind:

Focus on the meaning behind your script 

Obsessing too much on what you plan to say point per point can hurt you in the long run. In cases of unexpected blunders and interruptions, sticking to your script can make you feel even more lost than before.

While it’s okay to plan what you want to say, you shouldn’t focus too much on exact delivery. Instead, you should shift your focus on what each point you prepared is trying to say.

Your presentation will be a lot more flexible if you know your core message well. At the end of the day, this is what truly matters.

It doesn’t matter if you miss a few steps along the way. Your main objective is to make sure that the audience understands the main point of your presentation.

In the same light, it’s also important that you don’t focus on your slide deck as much. PowerPoint is only there to enhance the message you want to deliver, but you can’t rely on it to do all of the work.

What if the equipment fails? What if the power goes out? You need to be able to stand on your own feet without using your slides as a crutch.

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Observe your audience 

Take your cue from the people you’re communicating with. Presentations are a two-way street.

You can try to create captivating design and content, but you won’t be able to tell how the audience will receive it until you’re in front of them. As such, it’s important to watch the room for their reactions to learn how you can adjust.

Does the audience look bored? Try to mix it up by engaging them with a quick anecdote. Or maybe your discussion is dragging out too long. If that’s the case, skip some of the parts you planned and deliver all the basics. Do they seem disengaged and uninterested? Maybe you can try to reel them back in by encouraging interaction.

Shoot a question their way or ask a few of them to share their thoughts on the discussion so far.

Let your obstacles empower you 

The best way to be flexible is to make the most of the situation that’s in front of you. Instead of trying to cover up the unexpected derailment, use it as a springboard to jump back on the discussion.

All you have to do is make sure you don’t get stuck on your blunders.

Turn around a sudden interruption from the audience by saying, “thank you for that observation. I’ll get back on that once I finish the whole presentation.” If you can make light of it and add humor, you can do that too. The important thing is that you don’t let the scenario take hold of the rest of your presentation.

You can never tell how well-prepared you are until you get in front of the audience. Even then, you can end up facing something you weren’t exactly planned for.

In that case, it’s better to not let your anxiety get to you and improvise instead. You’ll be surprised that this could even lead you to a better outcome. Improve your presentation skill with these three tips.

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5 Presentation Tools to Encourage Audience Interaction.” SlideGenius, Inc. January 12, 2015. Accessed January 22, 2015.
Fine-tuning Your Presentation’s Core Message.” SlideGenius, Inc. November 11, 2014. Accessed January 22, 2015.
What Is Improv?Austin Improv Comedy Shows Classes The Hideout Theatre . Accessed January 22, 2015.


Featured Image: Death to the Stock Photo

Ad-libbing vs. Scripting your Presentations: The Larry David Law

Presenting in a professional environment demands a lot of tedious work. Understandably, no one wants to look unprepared when they get up in front of a crowd of their contemporaries, underlings, or worse yet, their superiors.

Because of this natural fear, we prepare cautiously–and perhaps brood nervously–on how to make the best impression possible.

We responsibly rehearse and perfect our talking points, but memorizing a speech is not the end goal. We aren’t robots, and we don’t want to be seen that way. Having a personality is a prerequisite for being well liked, therefore as much effort as we put in, sometimes we need to devote time to seeming at ease and letting our true self show.

The wildly successful sitcom, Seinfeld, was the result of Larry David's superb screenwriting.
The wildly successful sitcom, Seinfeld, was the result of Larry David’s superb screenwriting.

Seinfeld co-creator and longtime head writer sparked two very different, very successful television shows. Seinfeld, which is regarded by many as the greatest sitcom there ever was (or ever will be), has received countless accolades for its outstanding writing, over which Larry David toiled as the show’s head writer for the vast majority of the series. Because of this, the dialogue of the show is memorable, hilarious, and perfectly delivered, especially that of George Costanza, a character modeled after David’s real-life neurotic ridiculousness.

When David finally waved goodbye to Seinfeld, he began a new show, HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, which has become a cult classic, and in many ways is superior to his previous project. However, unlike the carefully crafted script of Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm is almost totally improvised.

Both shows have different appeals, and are therefore successful for different reasons, but which one is superior, and how can we learn from the two when crafting our presentations.

When up in front of a crowd of respected peers, we want to come off as brilliant and ingenious as Seinfeld, but we also want to seem as effortlessly charming as Curb Your Enthusiasm. How do we find a balance?

Well, knowing how comfortable you should be with ad-libbing a portion of your presentation may require some self-analysis. Are you a comfortable, experienced speaker? If so, chances are you may already be working some off-the-cuff remarks into your public speaking engagements, because you’ve got enough experience to effectively think in the moment.

If, however, you’re new to speaking in public, or if you’ve been doing it for a long time and it still makes you uncomfortable, it’s likely that carefully planning and scripting your presentation is more beneficial to you.

I had a management job for a couple of years in college that required me to run meetings and address my staff on a near-weekly basis. This at first made me a bit nervous, and to cope with this, I’d spend a bit of time before I’d have to address them thinking about what I was going to say, writing down talking points, etc.

As the job progressed, I, of course, got more comfortable leading meetings and speaking to the staff. Eventually, I wouldn’t even blink–much less need to prepare–before getting up in front of my 20+ staff.

David’s career is comparable, and a valuable lesson into reaching this balance. The heavy reliance on improvisation seen in Curb Your Enthusiasm comes after nearly a decade of writing for a sitcom. It’s not as if David was just born with a sense of how to improvise, it came after a long time of growing comfortable with it.

So if you’re uncomfortable winging a portion of your presentation, don’t force it. Even if you may seem a little less natural or a too rehearsed, it is most likely a natural part of getting used to being up in front of an audience. First, become comfortable in your own skin during presentations before you go to this next level; your presentations will undoubtedly benefit from it.