When Technology Fails During Your Presentation

Having a technology failure during a presentation is almost inevitable.   I recently gave a one-hour lunch-and-learn for some folks at a tech company.  They wanted me to talk about some of the common pitfalls that technical presenters face and what to do about them.  Giving excuses (or rather, NOT giving excuses) was a major point of the talk, and specifically about making apologies for when technology fails on you.

It’s not a matter of if technology will fail on you – only a matter of when.  Whether it’s an intermittent Wi-Fi connection; an Technology Failure during your presentationincorrect password; the port settings of the network don’t allow peer-to-peer communication ; a blurry projector image, a weak bulb, or a wrong aspect ratio; a microphone that feeds back or goes out completely; your carefully crafted PowerPoint animations are out of sequence; or a dimly lit room and a dimmer still projector bulb… you WILL face technology glitches at some point in your presenting career.

I’ve seen technology failure scuttle many a presentation, including a video failure (“It was a great video, I really wanted you to see it!”), a speaker shock themselves when touching the mic, a live demo where the database connection was lost in front of 4,000 people, and my personal hall-of-shame favorite: a sales presentation that spent 20 minutes trying to get the projector to talk to the computer and eventually was called off because they could not demo the software they were selling (spoiler alert: they did not make the sale).

Which brings us back to my presentation for and in front of a large group of tech-savvy folks.  Almost to the second when I was mentioning that technology would eventually be an issue, my laptop dinged three times.  I looked back at the screen in time to see a low power warning right before the display went blank.  Talk about practical application!

3 Tips for Handling a Technology Failure During Your Presentation

  1. The first thing to do when technology fails you is to remember that the audience doesn’t care. They came to hear you and the insight you have to give, not be wowed by your amazing slide show or catchy video.  The presentation – hey, that’s YOU! – must go on.  If you depend on your slides to remember what to say, you’re one bulb from being a stammering idiot on stage.  If you require a mic to speak, then you are a 9-volt battery from being a mime.  Focus on and be prepared to deliver your message, not be the technical operator for your electronic gizmos.
  2. Once you remind yourself that you must continue speaking, the next thing to remember is that you are in the speaking business, not the technology business. It’s likely someone else’s assignment (and talent) to fix the problem, not your job while you try to keep an audience engaged.  I try to solicit help before I speak.  Find the sound guy, the video expert, or have someone from the facility on standby to run and get help when you need it.  You need to be speaking the entire time.
  3. The last thing, and perhaps the hardest, is to keep your focus on the topic and talk at hand. Don’t talk about the technology any more than is required to get it back up or to segue to your new method of presenting.  And if you must mention it, once is enough.  Don’t prattle on and on about how the technology has failed you.  Deliver your message.

Keep your focus on the message, solicit help from someone else, and stay on message without giving excuses.  The result of handling technology failure in this manner is the appearance that you are in complete control and are a true professional.  That impression may be the most important factor in your success from the audience’s point of view.  They weren’t likely to remember your specific slides or tell everyone about your corny video anyway.  Make it worth their time (remember Rule #1!) and you’ll be golden in their eyes.

P.S. The power problem?  Turns out my laptop adaptor cord had pulled out of the brick that connects to the actual laptop (note to manufacturers – make it ONE piece, so this never happens!).  My host had neatly hidden the brick and the cord so it wouldn’t be an eyesore: whether he or I had pulled the cord is inconsequential.  It happened, and I was left to deal with it.  My heart rate doubled within a second, I couldn’t believe it happened, but I transitioned to a notes-only presentation, eventually just turning off the projector.  After the talk, several people asked me how I was able to stage a power failure at the exact time to make my point.  I just smiled.

Related Post:  How to handle blunders and mistakes from the stage.

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This article was published in the July 2017 edition of our monthly speaking tips email, Communication Matters. Have speaking tips like these delivered straight to your inbox every month. Sign up today and receive our FREE download, “Twelve Tips that will Save You from Making a Bad Presentation.”  You can unsubscribe at any time.