This scenario had all the makings of a disaster in the first 5 minutes but ultimately worked out in that the deal wasn’t lost. There are lots of lessons to be learned from this experience, and a solid justification for doing a thorough audience analysis – and more, if you have a lot to lose. It also reinforces the fact that you have to do your homework on your material and not think you can wing a presentation. In addition, when presenting as a team, you all have to be in sync, on the same page, and prepared to step in to cover for each other (or be able to turn the presentation over to someone more credible or senior if you can’t handle the ensuing discussion.)
Here were the warning signs:
1. an unexpected individual at the presentation
2. a derogatory comment made by that individual at the onset
Here were the red flags that continued to surface:
3. the presenter didn’t conform to the style of the slides his colleagues used (Why? This is a team presentation.)
4. at the conclusion, the individual was dismissive and blew off the presenter
5. by the speaker’s admission, “turned the tables” on the audience (potentially a very dangerous strategy if you don’t absolutely know your stuff, the risks, and the ability to think very quickly on your feet)
6. getting into a battle of egos and trying to be right (although the speaker was able to defend his data)
7. adding fuel to the fire with sarcastic movie references
Here are the best ways to handle these (if you don’t have the credibility and the guts to stand up like this guy did):
#1: Find out everything you can about your audience, reason for their attendance, and biases about the topic. Inquire about other “possible” attendees or secondary audiences that may see your information. Ask about the business climate, company performance, and information “in the news” about a company or individual.
#2: If a negative comment is made, do not become defensive. Try to understand what the individual is really trying to communicate. Do not lose your cool.
#3: If presenting with a team, do a “dress rehearsal” and be sure that your slide decks are seamless and compatibly “branded.”
#4: Don’t make your presentation a platform to show off. Demonstrate your credibility, but ask yourself what your audience really needs to know about you. Showing off, arrogance, character attacks and demeaning others will create more problems. In diverse audiences, these can be especially misunderstood and be the kiss of death for you or your company.
#5: Seek help from other team members or the audience, if possible. Be willing to take a break to make a phone call for support. If appropriate, suggest a follow up conversation to address really sticky issues.
#6: Consider taking a break if tempers need to be cooled off.