Is your presentation bombing? How to fix it on the fly

Your audience is zoning out, maybe even walking out. Don’t panic; you can get them back with three simple steps.


Your presentation is going down in flames.

Your audience looks lost or bored or, worse, both. Heck, this presentation is going so poorly even you are bored by you.

I’ve been in this situation. Do not despair. It is not a total loss. You can save your presentation.

Here are three steps to help you adapt on the fly and mend your relationship with the audience.

Step 1: Face the music

First, do a perception check. Have you really lost your audience, or are there just two or three people giving you the stink-eye? If it is just a couple, ignore those jerks. Focus on the members of the audience who are engaged and listening. However, if a large portion of the audience looks lost, it’s time to face the music. Acknowledge that you’ve lost them. “Looking at you, I’m seeing some confused expressions.”

That will get their attention because you are paying attention to them.

Step 2: Investigate

After facing the music, ask the audience whether they have any questions, or ask at what point you lost them. My experience has been that some brave soul will pipe up and say what they didn’t understand or where you lost them. Someone will offer a question, because the audience wants you to succeed and they genuinely want to make your presentation less painful for them. The challenge for the speaker, then, is addressing this question or confusion.

Step 3: Vary your examples

I like to be prepared with lots of options and examples. When I was a professor and even now, when I do a more technical presentation, I come prepared with a host of options and examples. If my audience is not responding to one explanation, I am ready with another. If an example is not hitting its mark, I’ve got a handy alternative. Being ready with multiple explanations and examples, I look as though I am adapting on the fly impromptu, when actually I’m just prepared (or nerdy, or both).

Don’t let your relationship with your audience crash and burn. You can fix it, recover, and become a rocking success.

What suggestions do you have for recovering from presentation failure?

Dr. Michelle Mazur is a public speaking coach and communication expert. A version of this article first appeared on Rationally Speaking.

Topics: PR

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