Many, many years ago – when I was about as old as some of you are now – I saw Debbie Reynolds on stage in a touring company performance of “Annie Get Your Gun.” Debbie launched into one of the show’s many well-known hit songs and stopped cold after the first verse. She couldn’t remember the next line.
She moved to the edge of the stage, waved her hands at the conductor and had him stop the orchestra. Smiling sweetly, she looked at us in the audience and said “That didn’t work so well, did it? Let’s try it again!” And they took it from the top. I’d guess that the applause after the number was even greater than on a flawless night.
Live performances are fraught with risk. A webinar performance, doubly so. You not only have the human element to contend with, but the technical element as well. Do enough webinars and something, sometime will go wrong. I have been the presenter in these cases, I have been the moderator, and I have been in the audience.
If/when it happens to you, you have the option of going to pieces. You can blubber incoherently. You can rage out loud about the awful technology or your awful brain. You can silently try to recover, leaving your audience wondering what’s going on.
Or you can smile sweetly, address your audience in a cheerful voice, and tell them that you’re going to deal with the situation and move on.
Last week I facilitated a webinar where the presenter’s computer stopped working properly just as he started his segment. He could see his slides move, but suddenly nobody else could see the slides move. I cut in and announced publicly that we were having a bit of a problem seeing the slides move. So I would take over the task of advancing the slides if he would just tell me when to move forward. Of course we had covered this failsafe in our rehearsals and he had a hardcopy of the slides on his desk to use in a worst case scenario.
It was no big deal. We didn’t try to hide what was happening from the audience, nor did we fixate on it. We stayed cheerful and briefly said we would do what needed to be done in order to keep delivering the promised content. Then we continued with the program. He did his presentation as planned, without a bunch of whining and apologies.
Sure, it’s not as fun listening to a presenter constantly say “Next Slide.” But when I looked at the post-webinar feedback surveys, they were universally positive. Not a single attendee wrote a snide comment about the technical problems or complained about the presentation. It was a non-issue.
Give your audience credit. They know that life is not always perfect. Heck, they’re watching you on a computer that probably frustrates them on a weekly basis! If you display competency, good humor, and a commitment to getting them the promised material, they will put up with a surprising amount of Murphy’s mischief.
Think about projected attitude ahead of time. Your audience picks up many cues from your words and your emotional state. Help them remember the content… Not the imperfect mechanics of delivery.