Embarrassing presentation bloopers, blunders and disasters

What’s the worst that can happen while you are giving a presentation? According to a recent study by The Creative Group, apparently quite a lot. The Menlo Park, California company, which specializes in staffing marketing and advertising professionals, asked 250 advertising and marketing executives to describe their most uncomfortable presentation experiences.


Those surveyed were asked, “What is the most unusual or embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you or a colleague during a presentation to a client?” Here are some of their responses as well as some of my own.  Can you guess which of these situations actually happened to me or a colleague of mine? (answers appear at the end of the column):


1.         “I was a little nervous and chewing on the end of a felt pen. When I got up to speak I didn’t realize the pen had broken and I had ink all over my face. My teeth were black, my mouth was black: I had marker everywhere and didn’t realize it!”


2.         “On the morning of a training program, I was interrupted by a phone call while I was putting on my makeup. During the presentation, the people kept looking at me quizzically. When my assistant came in during the break, she gasped in horror. Each of my cheeks had a bright red slash of blush that I hadn’t rubbed in.”


3.         “A colleague leaned back on his chair to look cool and fell right on his back.”


4.         “I had just become an account executive and I was nervous about presenting at my first big meeting. Having finished and done a good job, I took a sip of soda that went down the wrong pipe. I started coughing and spitting all over the client’s suit. Then as I returned to my side of the table, I tripped on the table leg and fell to the floor.”


5.         “Our account executive lost a lot of weight, and when he got up to shake hands his pants fell down.”


6.         “Our senior executive’s slip fell during a presentation.”


7.         “My button fell off my skirt earlier in the day and when I stood up in front of 200 construction company employees to speak, my skirt slipped down.”


8.         “A colleague was wearing a pants suit and felt something sliding down her leg as she was speaking on stage. When she glanced down, she saw a pair of underwear slide out on to her shoe. (They stayed in the slacks when she washed them.) She kicked them behind the podium.”


9.         “My colleague was a tall woman and when she was speaking her panty hose started sliding down. She had to sit down to finish her presentation.”


10.       “The computer didn’t work, the television didn’t work, the backup copies were lost and we had to handwrite our presentation on a dry-erase board.”


11.       “I spilled a freshly made cup of coffee across the boardroom table and it poured onto the client’s lap.”


12.       “We were displaying a TV spot on videotape and my coworker hit the record instead of the play and
taped over it.”


13.       “The PowerPoint presentation I was giving to more than 300 people didn’t work, so I had to wing it. And the microphone went dead in the middle of the presentation and I had to shout.”


14.       “I pulled out the wrong presentation and showed them a competitor’s instead.”


15.       “A hurricane was coming and I had to finish my presentation in the auditorium where cots had been set


16.       “I was delivering a presentation on an airplane and got food poisoning. I couldn’t get up, due to turbulence and became ill in front of the client.”


17.       “When the account manager sat down at the conference table, the back of the chair broke and she was trapped between the chair and the wall.”


18.       “The client fell asleep and started snoring loudly.”


19.       “We misspelled the client’s name.”


20.       “We were presenting to an international client and got the origin of their country all wrong.”


21.       “The client laughed because he through our ideas were so bad.”


What do you do if you find yourself in such a disaster? The Creative Group suggests a humorous one-liner (For instance, I’ve used, “Now that I have your attention!”). They also recommend taking a break so you can solve the problem out of the spotlight. And don’t rely solely on technical equipment. Be prepared to go on without it.


Good presenters know that preparation is the key to giving a great presentation.  But sometimes, no amount of preparation can keep a disaster at bay.  When the worst happens, you can take comfort in the fact that the audience will usually be on your side. They will empathize and be relieved that it isn’t happening to them.  (Answers: 2, 7, 8, 9, 13, 15)

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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