Presentations: Why you need a 'Plan B'

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For many people, giving a presentation is like going to the dentist.

Necessary, but unpleasant.

Part of that unpleasantness comes from anxiety over the unknown:

  • "What if I freeze or lose my train of thought?"
  • "What if someone asks me a question I don't know the answer to?"
  • "What if I get the 'blue screen of death' on my PC mid-presentation?"

A bit of anxiety can be a good thing. Knowing all eyes will be on you can help you focus, invest extra work in your presentation and bring out your best performance. Too much anxiety, however, can hinder your performance or paralyze you with fear.

One way to help decrease anxiety and increase confidence is to build back-up plans and fail-safes into your presentation. Here are a few examples:

  • If you use a laptop as the only copy of your presentation and speaker's notes, print out a hard copy as a backup. If the computer or power go down, you can keep moving with your notes while the tech team fixes the problem.
  • Save your presentation to a flash drive and keep it in your pocket or bag. In the event of a hardware or compatibility problem, you can quickly load your presentation onto someone else's computer and keep things moving.
  • Even if the meeting organizers have a projector, consider bringing your own. Yes, it's one more thing to carry around. And you may never need it. But just knowing it's there can increase your confidence.
  • Bring along some extra batteries for your handheld remote (to advance slides).
  • Will you require Internet access as part of your presentation in order to show videos, websites, etc? WiFi in hotels and conference centres can be spotty and private networks can be hard to connect to. Instead, use screen captures of websites and embed videos right into your presentation. The PPT file will be a lot bigger, but you won't have to cross your fingers when it comes time to show the video.
  • Another option for Internet access is to set up a hotspot on your smartphone and connect your computer to it prior to your presentation. 

Paranoid? Over the top? Perhaps. But for many, having a Plan B they don't end up using is preferable to standing in front of a packed room like a deer in the headlights, staring blankly at a computer screen, fumbling for a solution or stopping your presentation early.

I've been lugging around a second projector for my media training sessions for about five years now. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I ended up just bringing it for a car ride. But this past January, my projector bulb died in the first hour of a day-long session. Realizing what had happened, I called a quick break for people to stretch their legs and check emails. I swapped out the projectors and we were back up and running in a few minutes. When the session resumed, a few participants actually made mention of the fact that they were impressed that I had a second projector ready to go.

When it comes to great presentations, there's no substitute for preparation and practice. But incorporating these little Plan Bs can help reduce anxiety, increase confidence and let you focus more of your time and energy on your content and your audience.