Video: Bad Presentations


Communication Skills Tip For When A Presentation is Going Badly

Here’s a different kind of communication skills tip: If you give enough presentations, eventually you will have one not go well. You will have one go off the rails. Now, when most people do this, they have this feeling that I just have to power through no matter how bad this is, no matter how much sweat is pouring down my back, and how irritated and annoyed the audience is. I just have to power through and finish every slide in my deck. It turns out that's a very bad approach. The communication skills tip is this: when you have a presentation that's going badly, stop.

Here’s another way to look at this communication skills tip. A year ago or so, I went to racecar driving school. It's a fun thing to do and I learned a very important lesson. When you spin out on a racetrack, they teach you very quickly, when you spin, put both feet in. What that means is when you hit a spin and you're out of control, slam the clutch and the brake hard, fast, and simultaneously. It is your best chance of slowing, and stopping the skid, and not crashing into the wall.

When it comes to presentations, do the same exact thing. When you feel it go off the rails, when you feel that you've completely lost the audience, stop. Don't barrel through and annoy them even more by hitting every single slide in your presentation, that’s poor communication skills. Instead, just stop. When you stop, don't just stop and go, "That was awful, I'm out of here." No, stop and really use your communication skills by saying, "Listen, I feel like I've missed the mark here. I'm getting the sense that this isn't going all that well. Is there anything, if we maybe took the next three minutes, is there anything I could share with you in the next couple of minutes that you actually would want to hear, that would maybe be a good use of your time?"

If you do this with sufficient self-deprecation, basically saying, "Listen, we're going to spin here. I got it. I get it. I don't want to make you all suffer through this anymore. Is there anything before I just call up headquarters and say, 'Oh, my gosh, I blew this one big time,' is there anything I could share with you that you'd actually really want to hear?"

By being willing to say and tell the group this isn't going well, and making this part of your communication skills, it does a couple of things. Number one, it takes some guts to do it. Your audience looks at you, “Wow, this is actually a pretty seasoned pro here. If they have enough fortitude to be able to stop a presentation and not act like everybody else, they must be quality.” Two is it spares them more pain because if they're already checked out, the last thing they want to do is finish out the last 20 minutes in your presentation so it cuts them a break. Third, when you do those two things, the audience is likely to say, "Yeah. Actually, you know what, the one thing I wanted to hear that you haven’t answered so far, the one thing I wanted to hear was X, Y, Z. Would you just tell me about that?"

By stopping the presentation and ending the badness, they will, eight times out of ten, give you a chance to actually get it back on track. And now they're going to be at full attention. They're going to be hanging on to your every word because it didn't go well, you paused, you had to courage to do it, and now they look and say, they're going to answer the one thing I wanted to hear. It’s a handy one to have in your tool kit of communication skills, and when a presentation goes bad, that's how you stop it and turn it around.

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Posted by Mark Murphy on 09 March, 2017 Communication Skills, Presentations, Video | 1 comment
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  • Caleb - December 13, 2016

    Love it Mark. I love how you used the illustration of a car collision and applied it to presentation dynamics. It turns a presentation from being a performance to being a conversation.

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