Over the weekend, President Obama slipped as he descended the stairs from Air Force One. His graceful recovery provides useful lessons to presenters who stumble in front of an audience.
1. Don’t show embarrassment.
After he slipped, Obama quickly recovered his footing and maintained composure. If you trip, slip or fall, find your footing and maintain your composure. Don’t stop and look at what you tripped on, sheepishly turn your gaze to onlookers nor hit your forehead in disbelief that you messed up on the way to the lectern. Stay calm, and keep going.
2. Continue with confidence.
When he regained his footing, notice that Obama let go of the hand railings and confidently bounded down the remaining stairs. After you recover, take pains to maintain an upright, open posture. Walk with a spring in your step, and smile with warmth and enthusiasm.
3. Act as though it was no big deal.
At the bottom of the stairs, Obama saluted a man in uniform. As they walked away from the plane, Obama carried on a conversation with the service member and even patted him on the back in a jovial way. His actions conveyed that the stair stumble was no big deal. If you trip, slip or stumble in front of audience members before, during or after a speech, it’s usually best to keep on going as if nothing happened.
If the incident is more dramatic—a fall or tumble—you might acknowledge it with humor. I once heard of a conference speaker who fell on the stairs to the podium and said when she made it to the lectern, “I bet you didn’t think I’d take keynoting your fall conference so literally.” It got a laugh and the speaker then continued according to plan. Have a line in your hip pocket ready to go in, just in case.
Obama offers a good example of what to do when you stumble during a presentation-literally or figuratively. Speakers can apply these lessons to recover gracefully whenever there is a mishap during a presentation.
Christine Clapp is the author of “Presenting at Work: A Guide to Public Speaking in Professional Contexts” and owns Spoken with Authority, a presentation skills consultancy.