The big lesson I learnt from a VERY embarrassing situation
Sooo, a kind of funny, kind of incredibly embarrassing thing happened to me a little while ago.
I was standing at the front of a full boardroom, giving a presentation to the advisory board of a corporate client of mine.
I’m not usually a nervous presenter, especially in that kind of situation where I know the audience, I’m confident and comfortable with my content and have done my homework in getting ready beforehand.
It was an early morning meeting, which worked well with my morning sickness (which, contrary to what the name would lead you to believe, started out as a low level of nausea when I woke up and got worse and worse throughout the day).
But before I stood up to present I wasn’t feeling my usual self – I choked it up to baby-brain fuzziness and when the time came, I stood up and got straight into it.
Standing up there I really didn’t feel quite right, my body felt really heavy and it was WAY harder to spit out the words I was trying to say than usual.
I had a little rush of light-headedness, but pushed on through it and then the next thing I knew I was on my knees my face two inches away from the corner of the table that I would have slammed into if someone hadn’t reached out and caught me by the shoulders.
Yep, that’s right. I fainted.
Passed out in front of a full room during a presentation.
They had to wheel a chair around to me, pop me on it and wheel it back to the table where someone gave me some water and some fruit to eat.
And that’s how I found out that low blood pressure is a common symptom during pregnancy. I was only about eight or nine weeks pregnant at the time, and wasn’t ready to be telling people just yet, so made as light of the situation as I could, survived the rest of the meeting then got a friend to drive me home.
So, what’s this embarrassing / amusing (in hindsight) story got to do with anything?
Well, you can now believe me when I tell you that I have a decent amount of insider experience when it comes to unexpected, embarrassing and off the plan things happening mid-presentation.
Fainting is a pretty extreme example, but I’ve also had a million everyday issues pop up just at the very last moment you want them to –
microphones not working,
videos not playing or not having any sound,
someone interrupting you mid-way through – either to ask a question, or just out of sheer rudeness,
fire alarms going off,
people bursting into the room by mistake,
I’ve even had really loud rap music spontaneously blast through the room.
When you’re presenting, whether it’s a small workshop, a client presentation, your own event, or a huge speaking gig, you never know what unexpected challenges you might have to deal with.
Whatever it is, whatever annoying, off-putting, stressful or embarrassing issue pops up, there’s actually only one way of dealing with it constructively - have a sense of humour about it.
Getting totally pissed at the AV guy because the sound is wonky, or at Powerpoint for freezing up is not going to help.
Letting the rude person get under your skin is only going to throw you off.
Ignoring the fact that you should really stay seated while speaking is only mean you have further to fall when you faint… Oh wait, no that’s just me…
You have to expect the unexpected whenever you’re putting yourself in the spotlight, and be prepared to roll with whatever comes your way with good grace.
Your audience will understand.
In fact, it can be a great way to build a bit of rapport – everyone can sympathise with a bit of shit hitting the fan right when you really, really don’t want it to.
And if you carry on with a smile, have a sense of humour about it and make light of the issue it won’t have a negative impact on their experience.
If it means soldiering on without a mic (depending on the size of the room, obviously) then you’ll need to project your voice a bit more. If your videos won’t play, then describe the crux of what they were supposed to demonstrate and just keep going
. If it takes a “thank you so much for asking that, it’s a really great question and I’m going to come straight to you when we get to Q&A time so we can dive into it!”, then deliver it with warmth and sincerity and keep that person in mind as soon as you are ready to take questions.
Handling something with a bit of aplomb goes a long way, and a bit of gratitude for all the things that didn’t go wrong is always a good thing (like, say for example, not flashing your undies or bra when you fall over in a dead faint).
Have you ever had to deal with any left-of-field issues mid-presentation? Share your war stories below! I’d love to hear them!
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