You may be one of the tens of thousands who have viewed the video of director and producer Michael Bay beginning a talk at a Samsung press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier in 2014.
Bay began, but he didn't finish. Or, rather, he lost all words when he lost his place on the teleprompter, stood fidgeting, uttered "I'm sorry" a couple of times, and abruptly left the stage.
It's a speaker's nightmare: blank mind, frozen tongue, anxiety pulsing with every beat of the heart.
We at ECG understand. We empathize. We commiserate. But most of all, we know that such broken performances can almost always be avoided.
Few people are natural-born presenters, able to take a stage with ease, engage an audience without effort, deliver messages with seamless aplomb and grace. Kudos and mad props to them.
For most speakers, though, presenting is a learned behavior, one that is accomplished through instruction and feedback; through applying lessons learned; through experience and an examination of it.
Still, many speakers characterize the prospect of a presentation as fraught with fear and doubt, worry and distress. One of the first lessons, then, concerns ways of managing anxiety by, for instance, warming up, projecting poise, practicing, and focusing on your audience.
One of the best antidotes to anxiety, whether just an inkling or a tumbling onslaught, is to be prepared. When you have planned and rehearsed your presentation to the point of internalizing its messages as well as the evidence and stories that support them, you are not likely to find yourself frozen, mute, bewildered. If notes become disordered, a teleprompter fails, or an interruption occurs, you can rely on that internalization to slide you back into place and pace.
We don't know why Michael Bay faltered and then fled the stage. Perhaps he wasn't prepared to deliver content without the aid of a teleprompter. Perhaps his adrenalin crested, tossing him into a wave of panic from which escape seemed to be the only option. Perhaps he had no effective coping strategy for such a situation.
Should you feel a blankness threatening to descend or actually enveloping you, what can you do?
First, breathe. Breathe deeply. Then use eye focus to help calm you, looking straight into the eyes of one audience member, then another and another. Adjust your posture and body position, drawing into the "power pose" that appears to affect brain chemistry.
During this silence, backtrack to the last thing you said; do so without apology. Reconstruct that last comment, reframe it, expand upon it, use it to move back into the flow of your presentation, to the internalization of messages and support that you have rehearsed. Keep going.
If thinking on your feet is not one of your current strengths, practice improvisational, cognitive, or associative exercises to help you improve this ability. They can be as simple as alphabet games around a dinner table or as complex as many you can find by searching the Web.
A presentation is not likely to disintegrate when you have prepared, when you have rehearsed, when you have located and practiced recovery techniques. But if it does go south, know that Michael Bay's blog contains hundreds of comments that are kind, understanding, sympathetic. Most audiences are the same way: They want you to succeed.