For most people in marketing, speaking in front of a crowd is a typical part of their job. As a matter fact, most marketers LIKE giving presentations, because it gives them an opportunity to showcase their knowledge, connect with other people and share ideas. Presentations should be a fun part of your job, but are you prepared for anything that could happen?
Last night I gave a talk to the Social Media Club of New Haven. They had chosen a more social venue than usual and since it was a hot day, the door to the “have a Healthy Heart” café was left open during the presentation. It’s certainly a sign of the times, because in the middle of my presentation, a man pushed another man in a wheelchair into the café and interrupted the meeting asking for donations. He described, “ I’m living over in “Tent City,” and I’m just trying to get enough money to buy something that I can cook on the fire. Please help me; please, please, please.”
Well that was a first for me. The people in the audience looked a little shocked and were not quite certain what they should do. Fortunately, the restaurant owner handled the situation, and we were quickly able to go back to our conversation. All needs were met, including the needs of the man in the wheelchair.
While we were able to get back to our meeting peaceably, it brings to mind a skill that is necessary for anyone who is presenting.
You must be prepared for anything to happen during your presentation. One of the most common things that happens to me is that there are issues with technology, so I’m always prepared to give the presentation with no PowerPoint. A friend of mine, Kathy McAfee, teaches presentation skills and advocates going “PowerPoint free.” While I don’t go that far, I respect what she has taught me–that you need to be able to speak on your own, without any props. She has taught me that props can be a great addition to a presentation to increase impact and help people “get” your message, but if the technology were to shut off in the middle of your meeting, could you handle it? If somebody came in and interrupted your meeting, what would you do? If there’s a fire drill in the middle of your presentation, how would you handle the situation?
The answer to most of these questions can be found in the admonition: be prepared. Just know your material. If you know your material so well, it won’t matter whether you have the slides or don’t have the slides. You’ll be able to speak on the topic off the top of your head. Sure it may be more compelling if there’s a visual that goes with it. But you should be prepared to present without PowerPoint. If there are interruptions, be gracious, be firm, and then carry on with the presentation.
I have also learned not to apologize too much. When you apologize, you are wasting time. Move on with the material. Everyone understands that “life happens,” so carry on.
Hopefully, all your presentations will be smooth and brilliant, but if you find yourself with a panhandler in your midst, be prepared. Expect the unexpected!