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It Was Only a Dream: Why Presentation Nightmares Can’t Hurt You

We’re talking about presentation nightmares, fears and anxieties this week on the Future of Business Collaboration, a topic that I am (unfortunately) quite familiar with. In my role here at PGi, I’m constantly presenting. Whether it’s a strategy session with our board of directors, an M&A discussion with our CEO or a corporate presentation to existing or potential investors, my life revolves around being able to confidently present information to whomever may be listening.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all these years of giving presentations, it’s this: no matter how prepared you are, something is going to go wrong. It’s inevitable! Maybe it’s something you can control and maybe it isn’t, but the universe has a way of throwing you curve balls.

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For example, part of my job at PGi is helping plan and execute our quarterly earnings calls, which are, at this point, pretty well-worn territory for me and the rest of the executive team. In spite of our extensive experience, things can still go wrong.

Once, instead of un-muting for the Q&A portion of the call, we accidentally hung up the phone. Cue mad scrambling for the dial-in number.

And another personal favorite: an executive’s dog was sitting under the table the conference phone was sitting on, sneezed, and hit his head on the table so loud we all burst out laughing mid-call.

While neither of these probably qualify as “nightmares,” they serve as examples that even for seasoned presentation professionals, you have to be able to adapt to whatever the audience, the technology, or even yourself throws at you.

Here are a few things to keep in mind that will help ease your presentation fears:

Always Have a Backup Plan

One of my personal presentation slip-ups that still haunts me happened at a board of directors presentation. My mind was so full of information, data and stats that I’d prepared for the board that when it was my turn to speak, I literally blanked. I stared silently for several seconds (that felt like hours).

Luckily, I always have a backup plan in these situations. In this case, it was a go-to rundown of our strategy that I can do in my sleep. While it might have felt a tiny bit evasive, it helped me get my feet back under me and return to the questions at hand.

Regardless of your presentation fear—plan ahead. If you’re worried about technology failing you, have a plan in place to go old-school with paper handouts. If you’re concerned about getting stumped at Q&A, have a coworker drill you beforehand and jot down some thoughts so you’re not caught completely off-guard.

The Audience is On Your Side

Quick: think back on an embarrassing presentation moment from your professional career or maybe even while you were in school. Still stings a bit, doesn’t it? I guarantee you, though, that while you may think of that moment every time you get up to speak, no one who saw you remembers it.

Here’s something that we all tend to forget: the audience is on your side. No one is rooting for you to fail. They see in your presentation the same fear that they experience when they’re in the same situation, and they want to see you do well. Even if you slip up, or something goes wrong, as long as you recover and move forward, all they’ll remember is that you made it through.

The World Keeps Spinning

Finally, the most important tip of all. Very, very rarely are you in a presentation situation that can go catastrophically wrong. You’re going to slip up. You’re going to make mistakes. But the world keeps spinning.

Just like with any recurring nightmare, the fear is so real in the moment, but afterwards you realize that it can’t hurt you. Presentation nightmares are no different.

So keep your head held high, embrace your mistakes and the chaos of it all, and just go out there and give it your best. That’s all any of us can do.

Don’t forget to vote on your Presentation Nightmare on our Google+!

Looking for more presentation tips? Download our free Presentation Ideas eBook today!

About Sean O'Brien

Sean O’Brien is PGi’s Chief Administrative Officer. He oversees the company’s Legal, HR and Program Management organizations and manages Corporate Development, M&A and Acquisition Integration. In addition, Mr. O’Brien leads Corporate Strategy, Executive Communications and Global Facilities Management.

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