Imagine giving the perfect presentation. The crowd loves you, the room is top-notch and the PowerPoint slideshow and its content are wowing them with drop-dead dazzle. You're on top of the world and nothing can stop you. Then your projector shutters, spits – and quits.
Welcome to the world of snafu survival.
All presenters have the inherent desire to do great. We hope that no techno-glitches, bulb blowouts or nasty audiences will spoil our perfect presentation. But hoping for perfection isn't the answer. Fortunately, there is a proven method for handling even the worst surprises with aplomb. This method is used by NASA, airline companies and other organizations that need to adapt instantly to life-threatening change. It's called contingency planning.
Trained for trouble
Consider the typical emergency-room crew. By the very nature of their work, these professionals expect trouble. What many don't realize is that expecting trouble isn't negative thinking, but rather a high form of positive thinking. In training, these men and women must simulate a wide range of problems and weird snafus, then coolly handle them in a calm, methodical manner.
Although presenters rarely deal with life-threatening situations, this same theory of expecting the unexpected can be successfully applied to public speaking. When you're contingency-prepped, you perform better. You're less stressed and better able to think clearly on your feet. If you have backup plans and have rehearsed them in your mind, catastrophes are manageable and your confidence is improved.
The following are some basic tenets of snafu-survival contingency planning that can benefit your next presentation.
Have an escape route
The first rule of contingency planning is to make sure you have an exit strategy when disaster strikes. This does not mean knowing where the back door to the lecture hall is, but it does mean thinking through certain scenarios in advance and developing alternative plans to deal with them.
Don't just think these scenarios through, either – write them down. Writing down scenarios and their solutions not only fleshes out the ideas, it also puts the problems in perspective so that solutions are easier to visualize.
Make that first minute count
When devising your response, pay particular attention to the first 60 seconds – they are crucial. When something goes wrong, you may feel as though you're handling it about as gracefully as a train wreck, but you still want to strive to appear as though you've got everything under control.
Another important consideration is your body language. This nonverbal communication tells all, so speak a relaxed language. Take a couple of deep breaths. Convey calm and you will stay calm through that first critical minute.
Simulate your response
Once you have composed a list of "what if" situations and their planned remedies, it's time to simulate those actions. In your mind's eye, and then occasionally in your practice sessions, recreate the response in a clear and highly detailed manner. The more you prepare to deal with the unexpected, the easier it will be to handle it if, gulp, it ever does happen for real.
Another important aspect of this practice is to envision yourself handling the issue with finesse and authority. Olympic champions, professional speakers, actors, golf pros and pilots all use visual imagery to enhance their skills. Why shouldn't you?
Airline pilots use cockpit simulations to experience emergencies in as realistic a way as possible. After repeating an emergency response a number of times, the pilot becomes capable of handling the situation as a standard operating procedure. By definition, such emergencies are no longer emergencies, they are just situations that demand a different procedure.
Presentation emergencies can be prepared for the same way. As you continue to plan for contingencies, you will find yourself covering more scenarios and taking on ever more challenging "simulations" until you feel more comfortable with handling the unexpected. When you reach this point, you will be well-prepared to survive any snafu that comes your way.
John Tillison is a speaker, trainer and freelance writer specializing in helping business professionals survive and thrive at work. He can be reached at 800.396.9947 or firstname.lastname@example.org.