Handling Problems during a Presentation

By Malcolm Kushner

Problems can occur at any time during a presentation that involves an audience. Visual aids can get screwed up; loud sounds can interfere with the audience’s understanding of your point; or you might just make a mistake in what you say — or how you say it — during your presentation.

The time to think of a witty line to deal with a problem in your presentation is before the problem occurs, because more than likely, you’ll be too nervous at that moment. Using humor shows your audience that you’re not upset and that you’re still in control. Staying on your toes at all times is important, because unfortunately, lots of problems can occur when you’re giving a presentation.

Visual-aid problems

Those pesky slides, overheads, or writing tools never seem to work right when you want them to. Take a look at some annoying issues with visual aids and what you can say in response to operational hangups:

  • A slide or overhead is projected upside down.

• I’ll get another one; this one must be defective.

• It looks good no matter how you look at it.

• For those of you sitting on your heads.

  • Someone points out a spelling error on a slide.

• As a famous author once said, “I never respected anyone who couldn’t spell a word more than one way.”

  • You’re writing on a flip chart, and the highlighter runs out of ink.

• Obviously, I’ve come to the dry part of my presentation.

Distracting noises

Loud noises have a way of occurring just when you’re in the middle of an important point. Take a look at some distracting noises and things you can say in response:

  • Your microphone emits an ear-busting squeal.

• It must have been something I ate.

  • A police, fire, or ambulance siren disturbs your presentation.

• [Name of someone the audience knows] is late again.

• I told them not to pick me up for another hour.

  • A cell phone rings in the audience.

• Tell them I’m busy right now.

You make a mistake

Nobody is perfect. Unfortunately, many of us realize this truth while giving a presentation. Take a look at some possible mistakes you can make and things you can say in response:

  • You make a point that no one understands.

• I can explain your difficulty understanding my (last point, chart, plan, whatever): In my previous job, I wrote instructions for putting together children’s toys.

  • You mispronounce a word or say something stupid.

• I feel like the javelin thrower who won the coin toss and elected to receive.