How to avoid a presentation meltdown

Michael Bay meltdown TechGeek

Michael Bay, one of hollywood’s hottest directors (eg: Transformers movies) and worth $400 million, had a public speaking meltdown yesterday and abruptly walked off stage mid presentation.

It started with Bay joining Joe Stinziano, Executive VP of Samsung, on stage at CES (Consumer Electronics Show).

After a minute or so, he lost his place, panicked and walked off with his head bowed.

And you thought it was only you who felt the pressure of public speaking!

What went wrong with Michael Bay’s speech?

Michael Bay CES walking off

Bay and Stinziano were making a scripted speech, with an autocue feeding them dialogue.

Even when these scripted speech are followed without mistakes, they can seem fake, annoying and robotic. When Bay got lost, he didn’t know what to do. This is a problem with scripted speeches – and one reason I’ve argued against them for years.

Rather than “winging” it by chatting about the key messages, he froze, created an awkward silence and walked off. Stinziano, left on stage by himself, temporarily looked horrified and the whole room felt uncomfortable.

Is it too harsh to call this a meltdown? It’s better to see this as a humbling experience we can learn from. A key to public speaking is the wrapup – and without an end to his speech, Bay left it up to the audience to interpret how bad he felt.

Stinziano’s first attempt to save the presentation also failed when, after a pause, he said “Let’s thank Michael Bay for joining us”!  Even more awkward (there wasn’t much of a cheer).

What can you learn from this meltdown?

1: Don’t rely on a scripted speech when public speaking.

When you fully rely on slides, or a script driven by an AutoCue, the life is bled out of your presentation because you’re simply reading predefined text. It rarely flows. And can often appear robotic, awkward, forced, lifeless.

I coached a senior Disney Executive who had the same challenge with scripted speeches sent from L.A. He was ordered to follow a script on an AutoCue so that each movie launch would have the same messages around the world. Fine idea for consistent messaging, but a setup for lifeless presentations. And scripted speeches often makes the speaker more nervous, because it’s so removed from real life.

2. Know what to do if your technology fails when public speaking.

Make a ‘save’. That is; smile, and move on. Don’t feed the mistake with drama. Nothing is a problem to the audience if you don’t treat it as a problem. If Michael Bay understood this, he and Joe could have chatted on stage about Samsung’s new curved TV, without the boring script, and it might have been 10 times more engaging!

3 steps to stay cool under pressure

1. If you have to read a script written by someone else:

What we did with the the Disney Exec was to find the key messages within the script, and focus on highlighting those in his own style. Each of these key messages became a place for him to pause, look at the audience and speak conversationally. It also gave him time to gather his thoughts before moving on.  The rest of the time he just read his script.

This method gave him a much great feeling of control – and dramatically reduced his anxiety. On top of that, he was much more natural and commanding in his speech.

2. Create your own script with a chunk structure:

Break your speech into 2, 3 or 4 chunks and know the key ppoint for each. This is easy to remember and keeps you on track. And if there is a technology problem, it allows you to run through a summary of your talk effortlessly. Steve Jobs was a master at the Chunk Structure. See how he did it here.

3. Know how to think clearly and control speaking anxiety:

Don’t try to ‘fight’ your nerves. You just  end up fighting yourself and risk losing control. See articles on dissolving nerves…

The key message:

Yes, this was a botched presentation. But not because of the problem with the AutoCue. It was bad because of the way the problem was dealt with.

When you believe that technical glitches aren’t a big problem, and you know your key role is to deliver a couple of key messages to your audience, then you won’t over-react.

And the problems will be overlooked. They might even add some freshness and enhance your impact.