Did That Just Happen? Tips for Recovering During Professional Presentations

No matter how much you prepare, things can still go wrong during an important professional presentation. Everyone has experienced the occasional mistake, flustered feelings, losing their train of thought, or even technical difficulties. When these inevitable setbacks occur, how you handle them can make or break your confidence and professional presence.

Here are some tips for recovering from setbacks during professional presentations:

Accept That Mistakes Will Happen

The first step is having the right mindset and accepting that something will go wrong, no matter how polished and prepared you are. Presentations involve many moving parts – slides, notes, technology, space setup, etc. Something unexpected will most likely pop up and throw you off your game. Expecting perfection only sets you up for more stress and disappointment.

Be Prepared with Backup Plans

While you can’t plan for every possible mishap, it is wise to have some backup plans ready. For example, have printed slides or notes in case your laptop or projector fails. Know shortcuts to bypass technical glitches in your presentation software. Also, practice presenting without relying too much on slides, so you can proceed smoothly if they malfunction.

Pause and Breathe

If you make a mistake, trip over your words, or feel your confidence wavering – pause. Take a few seconds to breathe deeply. This gives your mind a mini-reset and buys you time to collect your thoughts before proceeding. The audience won’t likely even notice these tiny breaks while your nerves settle.

Be Honest and Human

Sometimes the best way to recover is by simply acknowledging the mistake or feelings of nervousness to the audience. You could say something like “Pardon me, I misspoke on that last point. Let me clarify…” or “My apologies, I’m just working through some nerves.” Admitting your humanity in a poised manner allows you to reset expectations and move forward without compounding the error, and allows your audience to connect with you genuinely. Who hasn’t been there, after all?

Use Confident Body Language

How you hold yourself physically makes a big impact on how you project confidence, even if you’re feeling shaken inside. Stand up straight with your shoulders back. Avoid weak postures like hunching over, gripping the podium tightly, or constantly shifting your weight. Move with purpose, make deliberate gestures, and maintain friendly eye contact during delivery. Practicing this beforehand is a great way to get yourself to feel more natural in strong body language.

Redirect with Key Points

If you completely lose your place or get thrown off track, redirect the audience’s attention to one of your main points or objectives. Summarize what you’ve covered so far, then say “The key takeaway I want to emphasize is…” and move forward from there. This buys you time to regroup while underscoring important information.

Inject Some Humor Carefully

For some presenters, a lighthearted quip or bit of self-deprecating humor can be an effective way to recover and relieve tension after a misstep. Be cautious with this approach, as too much humor could undermine your credibility. A single, simple joke about being human or having an off day could work well when used judiciously.

Carry On with Confidence

The mantra is to never let them see you sweat. Even if your inside is screaming, maintain an outward aura of confidence, poise and command of the material. Don’t dwell on the mistake or project self-doubt. Identify where you got thrown off, then move forward with assurance. The audience will mirror the energy and conviction you project.

With proper preparation and the right mindset, you can recover smoothly when things go awry during presentations. By rolling with the punches in a calm, confident manner, you’ll demonstrate grace under pressure while getting your message across effectively.

Learn more about how to make an impact with executive-level presentation skills in our event, Executive Presentation Skills: Speak with Impact & Authority.”