Gary Collins Newsletter #392 – BEATING PRESENTATION PANIC

I was late for class one day so I rushed into the room, hurried down the aisle, missed a step and fell flat on my face. The room went silent. Was I hurt? Before anyone could come to my assistance I rolled over, sat up, and joked about how a dramatic entrance is a good way to get attention.

If you’ve ever been on a platform, taught a class, led a group or done any counseling you know that the unexpected sometimes happens. Even experienced speakers and peak performers encounter problems at times. Last month, Apple CEO Steve Jobs was presenting the new iPhone 4 to a large international audience. Suddenly the new device stopped working. Jobs calmly acknowledged the problem, shifted to a backup plan and kept going. A few days later (June 11, 2010) distributed a message describing what Jobs did and listing ways for all of us to “beat presentation panic.” Consider these:

  • Try not to panic. Glitches make everybody feel tense and uncomfortable. If the presenter stays calm the audience relaxes. Steve Jobs rehearses well before speaking. He knows his material. When the phone did not work he acknowledged the problem, asked his technical aids and audience volunteers for assistance and kept going with another part of his presentation.
  • Use humor. This diffuses audience insecurity and concerns about the speaker. I have tripped on stage more than once. In every case I’ve joked about it and then gone on with my talk.
  • Be sensitive to the audience. One time a man had a heart attack when I was speaking. I asked for a doctor or nurse, prayed as the man was taken from the room, made some sensitive comments and eased back into my presentation. If something makes the audience feel uncomfortable this needs to be acknowledged before you move forward.
  • Have backup plans. I always bring copies of my slides and have two computers ready in case one doesn’t work.

Consider this: “The ability to deal with glitches distinguishes between a good presenter and one who is below average.” How have you dealt with presentation glitches? Please click on comments and let us know.


  1. Gary,

    Here’s how a glitch made me a better presenter: I do a lot of training in developing countries where we are never sure of having even electricity. At first I had trouble, wanting to do my presentations the same way I usually do with powerpoint, etc. but started devising low-tech ways to present. The low-tech methods turned out to be the most effective because the audience could simply copy my methods. They didn’t have a computer and projector, but they did have poster paper and colored markers.

    Keith Webb

    PS I like the new newsletter format.


  2. Gary,
    it is such a beneficial topic you presents in this newsletter. Once I had an experience regarding this issue. Fortunately, I spare one file in my flash disk and I could continue my presentation since my laptop failed to be functioned.
    I really enjoy your newsletter and learn from it. Mostly, I share yours to my colleagues.



    1. Randy, Absolutely. This is especially true with younger audiences. Slick presentations may still be OK with some groups but increasingly, authenticity is more powerful. Good example is the exchange between Jon Ebert and me about a time when we were doing a seminar together. I am guessing you would agree that whereas too slick presentations may turn some people off, too sloppy and unprepared presentations can be worse.


  3. One of my favorite presentation moments was co-presenting with Collins to some students and abruptly interrupting him by saying to the group “stop for a moment, your seeing integration happening right now – look at that guy.” Now, insert in your mind an image of Collins holding up Fast Company Magazine in one hand, Science Magazine in the other, and bible with a relevant passage open in front of him.

    PRESENTATION “TAKE AWAY” – don’t forget that sometimes disrupting your presentation to capture a moment is timeless.


    1. Jon, I appreciate the reminder. I loved that time when this happened. It was a wonderful learning experience that was mentioned positively on almost all of the evaluations. I was speaking, you saw something good that I was doing, jumped up, interrupted me and pointed out the students what I was doing as I spoke. None of them had noticed until you pointed out what you were seeing.
      I have a presentation “take away” too. Team teaching can be powerful when the two (or more) speakers are very much in sync, trust one another, and are enthusiastic (not threatened) when one person jumps in to add something to the other person’s presentation. Probably this is most effective if it does not happen too much. You seized the moment, surprised everybody because none of this saw it coming, and we all felt great about what happened.


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