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What To Do If Your Presentation Sucked

Let's face it – you can't hit every presentation out of the ballpark. What do you do if your presentation sucked?

I don't mean in your mind sucked. I mean it unquestionably without a doubt, and you've got the feedback forms to prove it SUCKED.

How do you recover from a bad presentation?

Stop beating yourself up

A bad presentation traumatizes. My clients tell me stories of bad speaking experiences that happened 1 year, 5 years or even 10 years ago.

From that time, they started avoiding presentations like Adam Sandler movies (which historically traumatize moviegoers everywhere). That's far too long to be hanging on to a bad experience.

Speaking is like falling off a bicycle – you've got to get right back on. When you've screwed up a presentation, it does no good to ruminate about how much you suck.

Get back on that bike and start figuring out how you can rock it out next time.

When you are asked to speak, say a resounding, “YES!” instead of slinking off resolved never to speak again. If Adam Sandler can keep making craptastic movies, surely you can give another speech.

Realize Your Message Matters Most

The vast majority of the time a presentation flops not because of your delivery but because of your message.

While it's easy to say “I'm just not a good speaker,” realize that a mediocre speaker with an amazing message can still make an impact.

As I've been pivoting my business more and more to work with coaches, consultants, and service-based business owners on the way their business communicates, they realize that their message does so much for their business.

Having one core message (or as I like to call it a 3 Word Rebellion) is key for the success of a business or for the success of your presentation.

Ask yourself was the message clear? Did it focus on one core message?

Message clarity = presentation success.

Presentation autopsy

Grim, dark, and time for a bit of brutal honesty. The upside of giving a presentation that sucked is – it's a great learning opportunity.

Now ask yourself, “Did I do everything in my power to prepare for this presentation”? Did the words, “I can totally wing this,” ever fall from your lips? Here are several digging in the dirt questions to ask yourself:

   * Did I really understand my audience? Did I know what they believed about my topic? Did I meet their expectations? Did I answer these three questions about the audience?

*  Did I know my stuff?

* Did I practice my presentation? If you need help with practicing, download my guide to practicing your presentation – TODAY – I mean right now – immediately!

* Did you know how you were going to close the presentation?

* Was I prepared for the audience's questions?

* How was my delivery? Polished or rough or somewhere in between?

Be honest.  Giving yourself feedback can show you how you can improve your next presentation to ensure success.

Bad Presentations Happen To Good People

Realize that bad presentations do happen to good speakers and amazing people.

Sometimes you can do all your homework, be clear on your message, practice, know your material backward and forwards and the presentation just misses the mark.

Once I was invited to give a presentation on cultural trends. I worked closely with the meeting planner. In fact, she approved every slide I was going to present. This was an executive-level audience and she wanted the content to be perfect. I researched, I prepped, I practiced, I had great examples.

Five minutes into my presentation, one executive raised his hand and asked “Are these trends based on quantitative research?” My reply was, “No, they are qualitative cultural trends.” He and half the room tuned out. The presentation flopped. My mistake was basing my whole speech on information from one person. That question killed me and there was no way to save the presentation at the moment.

Looking back, I now see that I could have reached out to some of the executives as part of my preparation instead of leaning on the meeting planner. Great lesson. Now it's time to move on.

I recovered. You can too when your presentation sucks. The most important point is: Keep Speaking. Learn from your mistakes and don't let them hold you back.

Create Your One-of-a-Kind Message

Your 3 Word Rebellion is the Key to Growing Your Business & Impact

Yes! I’m ready to rebel!

26 responses to “What To Do If Your Presentation Sucked”

  1. john says:

    Michelle, as I’ve said before, your articles are very informative and helpful. Your website is a great pool of resourses that I always refer to. Thank you for the great tips, entertainment and content!

    • Michelle Mazur says:

      Thank you, John! I really appreciate you saying so! By the way, we all really miss you in Seattle.

  2. Hassan, M.D. says:

    Michelle, Your article is so helpful! I gave a presentation 4 weeks ago and it was my first presenting experience! I was anxious, my voice was breaking and In the questions part my brain went dead and I couldn’t even think of the questions!. The audience was understanding and did not show a negative reaction to my performance. Now i lookat it and I realize that I should have controlled my anxiety and calmed down. I am still beating up myself even though it has been 4 weeks since the presentation, but I definitely will be presenting again the next opportunity I’ll have. Thank you for your article

    • Michelle Mazur says:

      You’re welcome! I’m one of those who beats myself up too for things that don’t live up to my personal standard. I feel your pain. Letting go is so hard, but when you think about what you learned – it helps to get back on the presentation bicycle.

  3. PheedLoop says:

    Wonderful article, Michelle! The whole premise of our product is founded precisely on what you hit upon here. Performing an autopsy on your presentation is so important, and we feel asking your audience is simply the purest and most honest way to truly discover what was lacking. As you said, best thing to do is to “keep speaking”.

    We’d love your opinion/feedback on our new product (PheedLoop).

    • Michelle Mazur says:

      The only way to improve as a speaker is to get feedback. I think it’s also worth noting that not all feedback is created equally. The key is to be open to feedback, apply it, and if it doesn’t work for you don’t be afraid to discard it.

  4. Karen says:

    Hey Michelle. What is your advice on having an open Twitter chart going on while you present. I just did a presentation this week and at the request of the social media savvy audience, I opened a chat room but mistakenly tried to moderate a panel while also moderating the Twitter chat. It was not possible to do both and impacted my moderating the panel. The audience made 2-3 comments about my “not moderating”. So I learned and won’t do that again. But I feel awful. Like it was public humiliation. I presented on a telecon yesterday and I normally am NOT nervous via the phone. I had totally anxiety and almost couldn’t breathe. Is there such a thing as speaker PTSD? I got back on the bike but if I was with a live audience they absolutely would have seen my nervousness. Am considering a Xanax prescription. : )

    • Michelle Mazur says:

      I’d say that you can never serve two masters. Twitter chats move so fast! There’s no way you can engage your audience (who needs to be your priority) and run the chat. The best thing to do is to use the hashtag for the event and after the fact respond to what was tweeted.

      It does sound like you have a bit of Speakers PTSD. First, give yourself credit that you tried something different. You experimented. It didn’t work out and you learned for it. Second, forgive yourself for making a mistake. The audience members probably have forgot by now. Finally, the next time you present and you have anxiety about it because you’re afraid your going to fail. Breathe, say to yourself “this situation is different. I’ve got this.”

      We all make mistakes. It’s time to forgive yourself.

  5. Carlos says:

    I gave a presentation this week. I felt myself literally choking on my words, the ticking seconds feeling like hours passing by. Somehow I got A message across and was able to answer questions to the audience out in the main hallway. When I went back to the hotel and slept that night I felt pretty beat down and drained only to awaken in the middle of the night feeling that I hadn’t presented THE message to the audience.

    I know that presentation is over and done with and I’ve forgiven the “self” that was on the stage for what he did and didn’t do. Now how do I give those audience members the message that they deserved to hear?

    • Michelle Mazur says:

      Hi Carlos – that’s a tough question. Unforutnately, you cannot give them the message they deserved to hear. The time has past.

      The only thing you can do is learn from the situation. How did you prepare for the presentation? How did your practice? Were you crystal clear on your message and confident on how it was organized? How did you prepare yourself emotionally and physically the morning of the speech and before you stepped on stage? Go beyond forgiving yourself and get to the bottom of why this happened and be inspired to improve. Hire a coach. Join Toastmasters. Do whatever is in your power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

  6. Jake says:

    Throughout my entire highschool career I have been giving bad presentation and for weeks I would be depressed. I just don’t get how other people are so great a presenting! I had this group project a week ago and everyone in my group did their part great but when it came down to me I was horrible. I’m just so scared because I’m getting into college and I know there will be countless presentations .I don’t wont it be a repeat of highschool presentations. Your article is very helpful and informative. Thank you for this and I really hope college would be different for me.

  7. paul says:

    Even as an Adam Sandler fan, I loved this article. Today I had a presentation that was just awful. It was scattered, brief, and just flat out bad. What’s worse is that the instructor of the course is my advisor. I had been overwhelmed with my GAship work that I put this aside thinking I’d be ok. Wrong. Michelle was right. I was unprepared and didn’t know how the presentation would go. I thought I would wing it. As a result I was unconfident and it showed.
    Ultimately, I cannot stop ruminating. What does my advisor think of me now? How will this affect my letter of rec? My peers must think I’m so stupid. Etc. I am regarded as a notable student otherwise. Faculty seem to give me a lot of praise and I do great things in my program. But after today, I felt like a fraud. I felt my advisor was disappointed. I can still see her face. This sucks. But in any event this article helped me feel better. Bad presentations do happen to good people. I have another presentation for a final tomorrow. I will prepare myself more.

    Thanks Michelle.

    • Michelle_Mazur says:

      Hi Paul. First, I’m sending you a big virtual hug because I know how rough it can be. Second, I’m going to give you a piece of advice the my MA advisor came to me. When you’ve done really good work, you’re getting a lot of praise, and the faculty loves you – what happens is that you develop what researchers call a “halo effect.” These people are already primed to like you. If you have an off-performance, they chalk it up to “Oh Paul had a bad day” if they even noticed at all. Go hit the next presentation out of the park, but it takes a lot more for one bad day to ruin your reputation.

  8. Crystal says:

    I so appreciate this article as I sit and ponder how badly my presentation went tonight. First talk in 10 years. Disastourous. First, I show up with my flash drive only to find out there was no computer! There was a miscommunication between the coordinator and the staff. I had to call someone to bring a laptop at the last minute. Slightly anxiety provoking. Finally get the presentation loaded, and forgot about connecting to the internet prior to the slide where I was going to show a video. Got that working and then we couldn’t get the sound to come on. So, abandoned the video. In fact, 3 short videos that I was using to drive some points home. Talked on a microphone that gave interference the entire time. Then, I idiotically tried to do a “turn and talk” exercise with a group of people that I could not strike up a rapport with to save my life. Instead of turning and talking- they literally just stared at me, stone cold, and said nothing. Next slide.

    • Michelle_Mazur says:

      Oh Crystal! First, breath. Second, do something nice for yourself tomorrow. Take a bath. Treat yourself to a pedicure or a glass of wine. But be gentle with yourself. Finally, after you’ve taken a day or two to process, get back on the horse and start again. And finally, finally these people don’t sound like the right audience for your presentation. Hang in there.

      • Matt S says:

        Great advice Michelle. I would be lying if I didn’t say I’ve had a few seminars, workshops & guest speaking gigs that didn’t quite turn out as I hoped… The best thing indeed is as you suggested – be kind to yourself (nobody is perfect), and then after a time of healing, get back at it and evaluate how to be stronger next time. 🙂

        • Michelle_Mazur says:

          Thank you Matt! Speaking is a process of improvement. And bad experiences tell us what we need to focus on to be at our very best every time we speak. But there’s no point in beating yourself up.

  9. What To Do If Your Presentation Sucked | Presen... says:

    […] What to do if your presentation sucked. 3 steps to coping with a presentation that blows.  […]

  10. therichlittlepiggy says:

    I completely flopped my first sales presentation today to my senior management. I have always been confident about my speaking skills. However this time i started of stuttering and was completely distracted by an audience asking me incoherent questions and facial expressions of confusion and disbelief. Everything went downhill from there…. I even reported wrong figures ( which i worked hard to research and was feeling mighty about) to my general manager, and he completely busted me. I felt like crying after my turn…. Now i really do not know how to face everyone in the office. I feel like i’ve lost all my credibility.

  11. Ammal says:

    Hello I had to present my science fair PowerPoint and everything went wrong like all my slides were out order and my data table didn’t show up and graph was messed up and she told me that I did it all wrong front of the class turns out you have to have 9 trials instead of 3 trials and at the end people were asking questions which I couldn’t awnser cause I did wrong I was the only person in the class who got it wrong she let me redo science fair and I got a good grade and a couple weeks later she let me represent my PowerPoint and everything went well but I’m traumatized by my old presentation and still stressed that everyone hated that presentation please help me overcome this btw I’m 12

  12. Rossy Neerosha says:

    I’m an interior design student and yesterday was my final presentation, that was the worst presentation I’ve ever presentation board was not too good i can’t answer the question they asked because i was too panic and that made me keep silent, and i heard on of my lecturer says that i failed this presentation she was class mates looking at me..i felt so embarrassed..after i finished my presentation no one claps no one cares why my presentation sucks even my friend, i cried and cried till now can’t stop crying..ur article really helped me..feel like someone still here to help me..

    • Ashish Mishra says:

      Hey there, I know how it feels when no one claps after ur presentation gets over while giving it in front of many people, including ur batchmates..
      I had faced the same situation while giving presentations for minor project in my final year of graduation. But today again I had given presentation in front of 50 people including officemates. Recieved a huge round of applause from everyone.
      & That voice of clapping was so overwhelming for me.

      I just wanted to say keep hustling, & while giving presentations donot give a fuck what they are thinking or what they will think. Save this formula in ur thought process as I did.

      Don’t worry, there are lots of people who come across these situation of embarrassment. But you will only be remembered if you will learn & rise above from situation.
      We are with you 🙂
      Best of luck ahead.

  13. Man of Steel ZA says:

    I am a Master’s Medical Science student and I recently had to give a presentation. First my supervisor and I agreed on working early with my slides so I sent them to her a month in advance. She only looked at them on the day of submission with little to no input. When I gave the presentation in front of the faculty of medicine I was calm. I spoke clearly and I looked like a winner. When it got to question time. Non of the questions had anything to do with my research. They were all personal attacks and they tried to make me look stupid to which they succeeded. Funny enough it was orchestrated by one department and all my supervisor could do was hide her face and just walk out. Most students that day had the benefit of having their supervisor jump in but not mine. In fact one doctor said that I was basically doing a PhD defence on my own and confirmed that the questions were attacks.

  14. Arjumand Bano Chughtai says:

    i had a speech on gender discrimination today and I knew it word to word cause I practiced but I went up on the stage in front of around a hundred people and I completely messed up all my points and missed a very important section because of my nervousness Everyone expected me to do great because when we practised in groups I was excellent But something about all those people staring atb me and all the people that gave their speech before (who by the way most of them rocked) I messed up really bad and i feel like shit

  15. Shreya says:

    I did a presentation yesterday on Unfair Labour Practices, 5minutes into my presentation the lecturer tells me “your slides are very detailed can you try shortening it because I have other people doing presentations today” I accepted and accommodated her but was flustered trying to remember facts while trying not the read slides, I missed out important information, and agter 10 minutes she tells me “I’m giving you 5minutes to finish”, so basically I had been rushed my whole presentation, I was flustered and already panicking by then an afterwards she tells the class that reading off slides is not a presentation further insulting me. I have another presentation on Monday and I’m already nervous because of this one incident. I doubt I’d ever be able to forget it.

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