What to Do if Your Presentation Bombs

By Dr. Michelle Mazur

Let’s face it – you can’t hit every presentation out of the ballpark. What do you do if your presentation bombed? I don’t mean in your mind it bombed. I mean it unquestionably, without-a-doubt bombed, and you’ve got the feedback forms to prove it.

How do you recover from a bad presentation?

Stop beating yourself up. A bad presentation traumatizes. My clients tell me stories of bad speaking experiences that happened one year, five years or even 10 years ago. From that time, they started avoiding presentations like Adam Sandler movies (which historically traumatize movie goers everywhere).

That’s far too long to be hanging on to a bad experience. Speaking is like falling off a bicycle – you’ve got to get right back on. When you’ve screwed up a presentation, it does no good to ruminate about how much you suck.

Get back on that bike and start figuring out how you can rock it out next time. When you are asked to speak, say a resounding, “YES!” instead of slinking off resolved never to speak again. If Adam Sandler can keep making craptastic movies, surely you can give another speech.

Presentation autopsy. Grim, dark — and time for a bit of brutal honesty. The upside of giving a presentation that sucked is it’s a great learning opportunity.

Now ask yourself, “Did I do everything in my power to prepare for this presentation”? Did the words, “I can totally wing this,” ever fall from your lips? Here are several digging-in-the-dirt questions to ask yourself:

1) Did I really understand my audience? Did I know what they believed about my topic? Did I meet their expectations? Did I answer these three questions about the audience?

2) Was I clear on the goal of my presentation? Did I have a BIG IDEA statement? Did I begin the presentation with the end in mind?

3) Did I know my stuff?

4) Did I practice my presentation? If you need help with practicing techniques, download my guide to practicing your presentation, located in the right column of my home page

5) Did you know how you were going to close the presentation?

6) Was I prepared for the audience’s questions?

7) How was my delivery? Polished or rough or somewhere in between?

Be honest. Giving yourself feedback will help improve your next presentation and increase the odds of success.

Bad Presentations Happen To Good People. Realize that bad presentations do happen to good speakers and amazing people. Sometimes you can do all of your homework, be clear on your big idea statement, practice, know your material backwards and forwards and still the presentation misses the  mark.

Once I was invited to give a presentation on cultural trends. I worked closely with the meeting planner. In fact, she approved every slide I was going to present. This was an executive-level audience and she wanted the content to be perfect. I researched, I prepped, I practiced, I had great examples.

Five minutes into my presentation, one executive raised his hand and asked “Are these trends based on quantitative research?” My reply was, “No, they are qualitative cultural trends.” He and half the room tuned out. The presentation flopped. My mistake was basing my whole speech on information from one person. That question killed me and there was no way to save the presentation in the moment.

Looking back, I see that I could have reached out to some of the executives as part of my preparation instead of leaning on the meeting planner. Great lesson. Now it’s time to move on.

I recovered. You can too when your presentation sucks. The most important point is: Keep speaking. Learn from your mistakes and don’t let them hold you back.

About the Author:

Dr. Michelle Mazur is a speech coach and presentation skills trainer who guides driven-to-succeed business professionals and independent business owners to ignite the smoldering fire within to speak up, speak out and make their impact – one compelling presentation at a time. For more information, visit http://www.drmichellemazur.com/

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