Just imagine your audience naked. Practice in front of the mirror. Don’t wear brand new shoes on presentation day.
Sound familiar? We’ve all heard our profs and bosses utter these classic bits of advice on public speaking. Even if they do have our best interests at heart, no gem of advice—or mirror or comfortable shoes—can prepare us for the unexpected. And the unexpected is bound to happen when it’s least convenient…say, in front of all the company’s VPs or during that six-figure project pitch.
Recently, I asked LinkedIn LinkingIndiana members about the worst presentation blunders they’d witnessed. We’ve all experienced some public speaking catastrophes, no matter which side of the mic we’re on. The stories that make us laugh or cringe (mostly cringe). We can use these stories to stay just ahead of the unexpected curve.
5. Was that supposed to be funny? Ken S. advised hiring a comedian to present the keynote address at a company’s formal awards banquet. Instead of letting everyone in on the joke, the company president made no mention of the jester’s real intent, leaving his audience wondering whether they should laugh or start implementing his bizarre business advice on Monday. Ken S. said the company spent the next week trying to explain the gaffe to 600 employees. The moral: Tell people who the speaker is. Don’t keep big surprises when you don’t need to.
4. Your presentation got me all choked up. Gilles D. remembered a highly competitive interview process when one job candidate took a big gulp from his mug, choked, and then showered the hiring panel’s thousand-dollar suits with a mouthful of coffee spray. After a stunned moment, the panel just asked the next candidate to begin, abandoning Mr. Coffee to leave without a word.The moral: Take only small sips. Drink only water. Better yet, don’t drink anything.
3. No hablo Maltese? Rebecca M. was new in her supervisor job when she went out on a limb to get approval for an expensive training video. During her first presentation of the video to the senior team, the lights dimmed, the screen flickered, and then…none of the actors spoke in English. Rebecca says the only valuable information her audience took from the presentation was a long chat about which language it was.The moral: Screen your video before you buy it. Screen it again before you show it.
2. Do as I say, not as I do. IT issues are the playground of Murphy’s Law when it comes to presentations, but maybe a faulty LCD connection would have benefited Tom A. He remembers setting up to do some training for internal regional staff when a file he’d left open on his laptop flashed clearly onto the screen. The document his colleagues saw was his recently updated résumé.The moral: Spend 30 minutes going over your computer and making it presentation-ready –- close everything, put desktop files into a folder.
1. Getting intimate with your audience. It may sound like the urban legend of the conference circuit, but the response from a number of LinkedIn witnesses brings truth to the stories. I’ll flesh this one out with three simple words: wireless mic, bathroom.The moral: Remove your mic before you head to the bathroom.
The lessons here are pretty clear: be prepared and always remember to remove your mic. The real benefit of these stories is the connection they’ve fostered among the two dozen LinkedIn users who’ve responded.
Thanks to an off-the-wall question, we now have something in common: we like to laugh at others’ misfortune.
Or more accurately, we like to laugh at our own more.
Many of us pointed the finger at our own personal presentation gaffes. What links us is a common experience, but not one that we’d be likely to find on each other’s résumés or professional histories. By asking an off-topic question, we open ourselves to new groups. We can make genuine connections and grow our network by going beyond the standard, expected inquiries.
This idea is something I’ll keep in mind next time I’m in front of a group—whether we’re live and in person at that conference hall or swimming in a sea of social network profiles.
Anybody out there know how to break in a pair of new shoes before my presentation on Friday?