The golden rule for saving a live presenter from mistakes, reservations, and technical problems.
There is an old circus anecdote, a phrase from which inspires the title of this text. It is told like this:
A young tightrope walker decided to learn how to perform without a net or safety harness in order to earn as much as a more experienced and highly paid colleague and asked him about the secrets of mastering this technique.
“Nothing complicated,” his colleague explained to him, “You just have to walk the tightrope and do all the tricks in the same way as you do them now, when you are wearing a safety harness.”
“But I could fall!” exclaimed the young circus performer, raising his eyes to the rope stretched out at a dizzying height.
“It’s okay,” the veteran waved his hand dismissively, in that case, just get up, dust yourself off, smile and continue the show.
This tip, which sounds like dark humor in the context of risky stunts, is a real lifeline for speakers when applied to online presentations and webinars.
Falling, of course, is not necessary. However, continuing with the show without dwelling on the mistake is a must. This rule has long been known to lecturers, politicians, traveling salesmen, radio and TV presenters – in short, to all those who have to communicate with the audience, so to speak, live on the air.
It seems simpler than simple. Why, then, is it not uncommon for a speaker, having misspoken or when faced with a technical problem, to become nervous, make more mistakes, and as a result become even more nervous and, as a result, turn an online presentation into Spanish shame?
This happens because the presenter overstates the demands on themself and proceeds from the wrong premises. Remember, no one has yet been able to make all of their presentations without a single mistake, and this is not something to strive for. Hesitation and technical failures do not doom a presentation to failure, and a presentation that is being given seamlessly may well turn into a real fiasco. There is no paradox in this.
At the forefront of a successful presenter is the understanding that they work with a live audience and must remain a living person themself, rather than turning into an automaton for reproducing words and advancing slides. Reading a memorized text in the style of ‘excellent=crammed’ is unlikely to result in a positive response from the audience.
Therefore, when preparing for a presentation, focus in advance not on pronouncing all the words and terms correctly, but on the fact that you are a living person – who, as you know, tends to make mistakes – and work for living people who, accordingly, know perfectly well that humans make mistakes.
What to do in case of ‘abnormal’ situations during an online presentation or webinar? There are several possible courses of action.
- If we are talking about a minor slip of the tongue or a mistake, you can safely continue to work as if nothing happened.
- If the mistake distorts the meaning, calmly correct it, if necessary, clarifying again the term’s correct pronunciation for the audience or focusing on explaining the idea that you want to convey. Some experienced speakers recommend training specifically for these situations by deliberately mispronouncing elements of your presentation or saying stupid and funny-sounding words and phrases in order to accustom yourself to such situations.
- If there is a technical glitch that takes time to fix, calmly take a break if it can be fixed quickly, or continue without the ‘broken’ part of the presentation. It would be a good idea to decide for yourself before the start of the presentation which of its elements, as a last resort, can be dispensed with.
And one more thing – no need to crumble in complex and confusing apologies. A short “sorry” and a smile will be enough. A joke also works.
Even the most experienced speaker cannot avoid mistakes when conducting online presentations and live webinars. You need to treat them calmly – as an inevitable part of your work. You need to think not about how to avoid them at all costs, but how to learn not to focus your and your audience’s attention on them. Measure the success of the presentation not by the absence/presence/number of errors and failures, but by the reaction of the audience and/or the commercial result – these are the best indicators of success.