When we perform in public, many things can go wrong. Dozens of things, if not hundreds. Some of these things are up to us, and some aren’t. But what’s most important when things don’t go according to plan? There’s one thing, and it’s called:
Composure is key in situations where it seems like the entire universe is against us. Your audience seems unhappy? Stay calm and smile. The projector isn’t working? Stay calm. Did you trip while walking onto the stage? Stay calm.
In October 2022, I had the opportunity to speak on the TEDx Tumski Bridge stage in Wrocław. Here’s the unpleasant story that happened to me.
Before I got on the stage, my predecessor handed me the slide clicker. I had it in my hands, and suddenly, it just slipped out and fell to the ground, breaking into pieces.
I’ll never forget the facial expression of one of the promoters. She completely froze. Her face was saying, “oh shoot, we’re screwed…”
But I knew that keeping my composure was the best possible reaction. So, that’s what I tried to do – and it worked. While staying calm, I analyzed the situation and came up with possible solutions:
Option A: The clicker can be put back, and there’s a chance it can be fixed.
Option B: There’s a chance that I have a space clicker in my backpack.
Option C: I know that the person lined up to perform after me has a spare clicker because I saw him using it.
After thinking about it, I realized that no matter what happens to the clicker, we’ve got alternatives. There’s always an alternative.
We chose option C. I got the new clicker from my colleague, and I could start with my presentation. It went really well, and the dramatic fall of the slide clicker became a story of the past.
We get the best ideas while we’re calm, not while we’re panicking. Keeping calm stimulates our thoughts. We can think more clearly and act more rationally, thoughtfully, and efficiently. Controlling your instinct to start panicking is key to keeping your composure.
How to avoid panicking
It’s not that easy. It requires breaking the pattern most of us follow unconsciously. The pattern works as follows:
Something goes wrong? Let’s panic. Something didn’t go according to plan, and the stakes are high? Let’s panic. We’re giving an important presentation in less than a minute, and PowerPoint is acting up? Let’s panic.
That’s our brain’s automatic reaction. But we don’t have to give in to it. So here’s what I suggest:
1. Something bad happens.
2. You notice the situation.
3. Your brain will get immediately triggered to start panicking. Let it do so for a second. Don’t try to block it but become aware of it, recognize it, and say: Oh, I knew this is how I’d react. Becoming aware of your emotions is the easiest way to start taking control of it.
4. Take a look at the situation from an outside perspective, as if it wasn’t happening to you but to someone you know or a character in a slapstick comedy.
5. Notice something funny about the situation. It can be someone’s facial expression, an insane coincidence, or something someone said. When it’s over, that one funny thing will be the center of the anecdote you’ll be telling. If you cannot find anything funny about the situation, focus on one particular detail. Doing so will help you bring yourself back to the present moment.
6. Then, start looking for possible solutions.
The entire process from point 1 to point 5 shouldn’t last longer than a few seconds. It should pass through your head fast but step by step. Only then you’ll be prepared to start fixing the situation.
The Audience Traps
From time to time, I help scientists prepare for important presentations whose goal is to get multimillion grants. For them, this is a very stressful event. They prepare for these presentations for weeks, sometimes even months. Often, these presentations result from long years of tedious scientific studies.
Of course, there are always more candidates than the number of grants available. The deciding jury doesn’t have an easy task either. They have to choose just a few people from a huge number of prominent scientists and give funding for further research only to the best. So, how do they choose the best?
One of the methods they use is to test the candidates’ ability to handle stress and unexpected events. They ask very inquisitive questions, pick up on little words, and sometimes even try to openly upset the candidates by making a rude comment or a series of nasty questions.
What for? To test how the candidates react to stress because they know that conducting scientific research comes with many stressful situations.
So what’s the correct reaction the candidates should have?
You guessed it – composure. Treating every single comment, even the nastiest, as something easy to handle. This proves that the candidate will be able to handle adversities with the same composure in the future.
Keeping calm in the most stressful situations shows the audience confidence. Not a fake one, but a genuine one that comes from believing in one’s abilities and inner knowing that we can handle anything that comes our way.
Let’s exercise composure. It will save us in countless situations – not only while giving presentations.
And if you want to master your presentation skills, then check out my online course Professional PowerPoint Presentations HERE>