She had always dreamed of being a keynote speaker, and now that moment was here. It was an industry conference and this would be good exposure. She commanded the stage with all the confidence and gravitas of a professional speaker. Her presentation opening was polished and rehearsed, as she showed the audience what she could do. Then, something happened. She lost her voice. No, not her volume. She lost her message!
She froze with a long pause that got longer and longer. At some point, the audience knew from her eyes that this silence was not intentional.The crowd encouraged her with soft mantras. "You go, girl." "You can do it." Finally, she was back in her body and demanded to speak for the remaining two minutes. She grabbed the moment with gusto but this presentation was not her shining moment.
At a women's event, a male stylist was asked to speak about his skin care line. He started off well and then 5 minutes into the talk he excused himself and left the building. Fear got the better of him.
More typical, is the sales presenter who drones on when the prospect is ready to buy. Instead of closing, he covers everything in the deck and talks his way right out of the sale!
So what do you do when you know you're bombing?
1. Take stock and pivot. Quickly assess why it's not going well. Do they seem bored? Then try to engage the audience with a question.
In the case of the sales presentation, if you get a yes, fast forward to the close.
If it's the wrong topic for the meeting, stop, acknowledge the elephant in the room, and be willing to facilitate a discussion, or agree to reschedule the meeting.
2. Breathe. Don't go into panic mode when your brain freezes. You need to get back into your body. Focusing on your breath will help you remain calm. Smile.
3. Summarize. If you go blank, simply summarize the story or material you just presented. This will buy you time.
4. Use a pattern interrupt. One presenter who was behind the lectern, lost her place in the notes. So she did something unexpected. She took out her glasses and slowly adjusted them on her face. This gave her time to find her place. The audience never knew she was lost.
5. Ask for help. I once was on a panel and had a word retrieval issue. I asked the audience, "What is the word I'm looking for?" and then thanked them for their help. No big deal.
6. Pull out your one-liners and come back to the moment. If brain freeze is your fear, plan a number of lines you can use. You can refer to your "senior moment". Comedian Johnny Carson used this technique when a joke didn't get a laugh. He would acknowledge the joke that "just died."
As in sports and politics, you don't always win. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn. But you can always recover with grace.
Watch this video - Plan a Recovery Strategy:
And this one - Watch my blooper recovery!