There are those times when you are scheduled to make a presentation, but you simply do not feel up to it. Not at all. Not for a minute. So what do you do? Do you phone it in? Cancel and reschedule? See if you can get a replacement?
Here are real scenarios, most of which I have personally experienced, plus what the best presenters do even in the worst of times. It's tough, but this is the mindset to have when the absolute last thing in the world you want to do is make a presentation!
You're scared about presenting: It's been ages since you made a presentation, or the last time you made one, it totally flopped. But when you show up for a presentation, the last thing you want to do is give the impression you're scared out of your wits or that you do not have your act together. Give them nothing but an impression that you are totally in control. And that presentation that flopped? It's done and over. Stick a fork in it. You learned what worked and what didn't, and you've moved forward. Or what if it's been a long time since you presented? That's fine, too. Do not let the audience know it's been some time since you took to the stage. Practice like it's the performance of a lifetime, then get out there and kill it.
You don't like the audience, or the audience doesn't like you: It's terrifying, but it happens. I remember many many moons ago - maybe around 2011 or so - a colleague and I were making simultaneous presentations in different parts of a building to groups of faculty members in California. During a break, I scurried over to the colleague and asked him if he was getting a weird vibe from the profs in his room. He was indeed. "Okay. Good." Not "good" as in I was glad he was getting the stink eye, too, but "good" as in I was glad I wasn't alone, that perhaps it was not 100% my fault that the audience wasn't loving everything I was saying. We found out later that before our presentations, during the 8am plenary session, the faculty had been told there was a ton of new policies being put in place for the new term; they needed to enforce the policies and comply, as applicable; and raises for the new year were in jeopardy. "And with that, ladies and gentlemen, please go forth, and soak in everything the presenters have to give you!" REALLY?! The feelings weren't personal. They were real. The audience had been slammed with all kinds of new information that required time to process, but everyone was expected to immediately shift into gear and participate with full engagement and a happy face. Yeh, right. Keep your game face on, don't worry about what you cannot control (e.g., audience attitudes), and give them an experience like they've never had before.
You are so tired until you cannot think, walk, or talk straight: Imagine presenting an afternoon webinar, zipping off to the airport, flying 3 hours to the east, hardly sleeping, presenting a 2-hour workshop, sprinting to your hotel room to moderate another webinar, then dashing off to the airport to fly to another city to facilitate that live workshop again the next day. That sounds extreme and ridiculous, right? I've done it. But here's the deal: your options are tell everyone how tired you are and even look and perform in a fatigued way OR show up; give it 100%; and knock your audience's socks off, knowing you can sleep another time (maybe on the plane). For which do you want to be remembered?
You receive devastating/world-rocking/mind-blowing news just before a presentation: Picture it. Early May 2018. San Diego, California. The convention center. (Yes, I'm channelling my inner Sophia Petrillo from "The Golden Girls.") It was almost 1pm when I was on my way to the speaker ready room to make some final changes to my slide deck in preparation to facilitate my presentation at 3pm when I read a unique and incredibly familiar name on a conference-goer's name badge. There were 10,000+ people in attendance at this conference; the odds of me running into this person and then even engaging in a conversation with him were 1 in billion ... make that 1 in a trillion. I will not go into details, but do know that the encounter and the huge secret that was revealed during the course of our conversation caused both of us to become totally shaken. Totally. In my mind, I was thinking "How in the world am I going to get through this presentation NOW?!" But I also had to tell myself "Suck it up, buttercup." (I'm channeling another firecracker with that line, my friend, Nona!) I had a presentation in just over 2 hours; 400-500 people were going to be in the room, and cancelling or finding a replacement was not an option whatsoever. I showed up and did what I had to do. Period. Sometimes that's what you have to do, recognizing it isn’t always appropriate to visit your pain or struggles on the audience. That's not what everyone came to see or hear. It's not that they would not be sympathetic to your plight; it's simply not their expectation that the presentation will turn into an episode of "Dr. Phil." Give them that for which they came to see and hear, which is you in all of your amazingness!
You are making a presentation on what you know is your last day or one of your last days on the job: This is a tough one, especially if the career change was not initiated by you. And even if it is, there can be something in you that makes you want to just dial it in, wrap it up, and call it a day. You cannot do this. When you are making a presentation, you are doing more than representing a company; you are representing yourself. You can tell everyone "This is my last day," but why do so if it has no bearing on the presentation and/or whether the audience will be taken care of in your absence? Give a performance as if you are going to be in that position for the next 25 years, and leave no one the wiser. (And again, I've been here. Seattle ... April 07, 2016 ... you would have thought I was going to be selling the product on which I was presenting for the next 50 years!) The degrees of separation are getting smaller and smaller; as such, you never know when paths will cross again, and you do not want to be remembered as that one person who made a presentation and obviously didn't give a care. This is one where you remember the bigger picture - your career, your reputation, your future - and press on with greatness!
You've got this!
Are you a professional woman who makes presentations as part of your job or as part of your business? Did you ever wish you could get personal and helpful guidance on improving your presentation skills? Get on the phone with me for a complimentary presentation skills analysis. It will involve only about 30 minutes of your time, and you will learn how to start making your presentations amazing once and for all! Schedule your call HERE. It’ll be the best 30 minutes you’ve ever spent working on your presentation skills. I guarantee it!
Photograph credit: U. Leone