Sooner or later, despite your best efforts to rehearse, one of your demos will fail.
You’re going to try to fix it really quickly without the audience noticing. It won’t work because the entire audience is at least vaguely familiar with the subject material.
Your entire delivery will instantly come unglued. Your posture will change, your voice will get quieter. Watch the body language of the presenter on the right:
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The presenter clearly feels like he’s lost control of the demo – and the crowd – when in reality, he’s got an amazing opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, he’s under a wee bit of pressure, doing a Windows demo with Bill Gates, but listen to that laughter again.
When demos fail, the crowd is laughing with you, or at you. It’s your call, so laugh with them.
Every one of us in the technology business goes through failures every day, and not just in our demo environments, either. When the presenter onstage gets a failure, he instantly becomes one of us, and he’s on our team. We’ve all been there. Here’s how to win the crowd over fast:
- Stop what you’re doing, take one small step back, and grin at the audience. They’re going to be laughing. Be happy, because this is a great memorable moment for everyone involved, including you.
- While you’re still away from the keyboard, explain what you think the error message means.
- Explain the one thing you’re going to try to do to recover.
- Step back up to the keyboard and try that one thing.
If it succeeds, keep right on going, happy and confident in the knowledge that you’ve mastered the technology and the audience.
If it fails, stop troubleshooting, no matter how easy the situation looks. You’ve already been wrong once, but the audience is with you. If you proceed down the path of troubleshooting your own broken environment onstage, you’ll lose the audience’s faith in a matter of seconds. Instead, bail out of the demo, switch back to your presentation, and use the hidden slides with screenshots you took ahead of time while you were rehearsing the demo. Explain what the audience should have seen, and share a laugh about the failure.
Most presenters would kill for the chance to get the audience to belly laugh. You just achieved it. Done properly, even your presentation failures can be successes.