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  • Judy Sims

Bouncing Back: How to recover from a bad presentation

woman delivering a bad presentation

I once gave a presentation to a group of newspaper executives in which I used the innovation of square watermelons to somehow illustrate how newspapers could be more innovative too. I don’t remember why I thought this would be a good idea, but it most certainly wasn’t. What I thought was witty, they thought was eye-rolling. A different audience may have appreciated it, but not this group of cynical, grumpy boomers, several of whom had spent years in smoky newsrooms trying to one-up each other’s deeply deranged dark humour. Square watermelons were not deeply deranged dark humour.

Halfway through the presentation, I realized my mistake. I powered through, and then slunk back to my seat and pretended to organize my notebook. There were no follow up questions. And to this day, I cringe, ever so slightly when I think about it.

We've all been there. You put your heart and soul into a presentation, only to have it fall flat. Technical difficulties, a tough audience, unexpected questions, or even a simple case of nerves can leave you feeling deflated and defeated. But fear not, we can recover from our bad presentations.

Here's how to recover after a bad presentation:

1. Take a Deep Breath (and Maybe a Walk)

The first step is acknowledging the disappointment. It's okay to feel bummed. But dwelling on it won't help. Take a few deep breaths, grab a glass of water, or step outside for some fresh air. Clear your head and remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes, even the best presenters.

2. Debrief – But Be Kind to Yourself

Once you've calmed down, take some time to analyze what went wrong. Was it technical issues beyond your control? Did you lose the audience's attention? Did you go on and on about square watermelons in front of a room full of cynics? Focus on what you can learn, not self-criticism.


3. Seek Feedback (But Choose Wisely)

Feedback is crucial for growth but choose your source carefully. Find a trusted colleague or mentor who can offer constructive criticism without piling on the negativity. Ask specific questions like: "Did the flow of my presentation feel clear?", "Were the key points effectively communicated?", or "Was there a specific point where I lost the audience?"


4. Address the Issue Head-On (If Necessary)

If the presentation was a major misstep that needs immediate correction, consider a follow-up email or meeting. Acknowledge the shortcomings, reiterate the key points, and offer to answer any lingering questions. This shows professionalism and a willingness to learn.


5. Learn from the Experience and Move On

Every presentation, good or bad, is a learning opportunity. Use this experience to improve your skills. Here are some areas to consider:

  • Public Speaking: Were you nervous or shaky? Practice breathing, meditation, and visualization. And if all else fails, talk to you doctor about a propranolol prescription.

  • Content: How well did you know your audience? Were you talking to them, or at them? Did they seem confused? Refine your message to ensure clarity and focus.

  • Visual Aids: Were your slides cluttered or distracting? Were they just a wall of bullet points? Did they have a lot of pictures of square watermelons in them? Invest in clear, concise visuals.

  • Engagement: Did the audience seem bored? Practice interactive techniques like polls or questions to keep them engaged.


Remember: Even the most seasoned presenters have off days. Don't let one bad presentation define you. Learn from it, adapt, and come back stronger in your next presentation.



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