Ways to recover from a bad presentation

Public speaking is one of the most feared acts in America today. We have all one time or another experienced when a presentation fall off the rails.

If this happens, don’t panic and keep your cool. Your presentation isn’t about the slides — it’s about your content. Real people persuade people, not slideshow presentations. If you misstep in your presentation, it just shows how human you are and it can make you a little more relatable.

Imagine finally landing a meeting that took weeks to schedule, but when you walk in, he leans forward to shake your hand, smiles and says, “OK, I have another pressing engagement I have to attend. I wish I had much more time to stay.”

Now what? That 45-minute presentation just got pushed to 10 minutes. Take a breath. Focus on two or three of your most important points. Deliver them clearly with impact. Maintain an open body and a strong close. If you need more time ask for a second meeting.

Let’s look at how to handle common public-speaking blunders.

Running out of time

It’s always better to plan your presentation to run short to avoid irritating your audience and give time for questions. Practicing gives you a better sense of how long it will go.

Just practicing to memorize, however, isn’t really knowing your content to the degree that if your presentation gets unexpectedly cut short you can adjust on the fly. Remember to focus on your main points.

You are borrowing your audience’s time to invest in you and your message. It is important to respect that trust.

 Don’t just memorize; practice until you have internalized it

Having to revise a memorized presentation on the fly can wreck havoc on any speech. If you have to adjust, due to time constraints, you may not be able to deliver the goods if you don’t know your content forwards and backwards.

Don’t make a big deal when you can’t cover it all. Just keep hitting your high notes to move forward and make the best of things.

Build your presentation based upon modules

You can always remove a module or section in a time crunch. Don’t drop the presentation close, though, because it contains your call to action and the main purpose of your speech.

On a rare occasion you may encounter a heckler looking for attention or who just wants to prove you wrong. Here’s how to manage it:

  • Set ground rules for Q&A to be reserved for the end of you presentation. You can offer your direct email for attendees who are asking time-consuming questions.
  • Show confidence; avoid any sign of hesitation that will empower hecklers.
  • Don’t engage the heckler if possible. But if you do, add a little humor.
  • If a heckler is upsetting your audience, ask him or her to leave promptly.

Losing your train of thought

If you get lost, relax and trust yourself to take the pressure off. Many professional speakers take a sip of water to pause and regroup. Try not to make a big deal of it so your audience won’t, too. You can always ask your audience where you were and most are willing to help out.

Losing the audience

If you notice the audience checking their cellphones, texting and leaving, you may have lost them. Stop your presentation and ask them what they are most interested in learning about.

Since you have practiced and really know your presentation, utilize only the modules that apply. If none of them apply, wing it and abandon your slide show. After all, this is a people business and not about your presentation.


The best way to recover from a bad presentation is to not focus on it. Try not to relive it over and over in your mind and feel sorry for yourself. Do not read audience reviews. Remember, bad presentations happen to good speakers.

When we first learned to ride a bike, most of us had training wheels first. We fell down, but got back up. Give yourself some time to recover by going to see a movie with a friend or dinner with a loved one. After a few days, take an inventory of your mistakes and select two things to improve on for your next presentation.

Be sure to have your presentation in the correct order and use 4×6 note cards for key areas. Practice, practice, practice, and remember it doesn’t have to be exact as long as you communicate your key points, your close and your call to action.

Ninety percent of your audience wants you to succeed. Many times you’ll be much harder on yourself than you really need be. Keep your chin up and keep stepping forward.


Michele Cuthbert is the CEO and creator of Baker Creative, a global WBE-certified creative brand management firm based in Ohio.