Steve Jobs had a serious and embarrassing Wi-Fi problem to deal with. It was plain to the thousands in attendance and the tons more people watching online: On Monday at WWDC, Jobs was struggling with wireless connectivity while attempting to demonstrate the new features of Apple's iPhone 4.
"Our networks in here are always unpredictable, so...I have no idea what we're going to find," he said. "They are slow today."
What Jobs did next, according to Carmine Gallo, author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, was vintage Jobs (and a model for how presenters should deal with stage crises): He did not panic. He did not look hot under the collar of his trademark turtleneck. His hours of practice and intimate knowledge of every inch of every slide made him comfortable enough so that he could jump around to another part of the presentation (in this case, to look at photos).
Jobs "trouble shooted" his problem by asking the audience (and, presumably, his back-stage engineers) for a little networking assistance. "You know, you could help me out. If you're on Wi-Fi, if you could just get off," he pleaded, to roaring audience laughter. "I'd appreciate it. We're having a little problem here."
And he sprinkled in several more bits of humor to diffuse any audience insecurity. "I've got time," he joked, while waiting for the audience to "police each other."
"It was brilliantly done," Gallo says. "He's so well prepared that he knew what was coming next. He had a backup and went back to the photographs without missing a beat. And it didn't bring the whole presentation to a halt."
What every presenter needs to realize about this episode: It certainly wasn't the first time Jobs suffered a presentation-related mix up, and it probably won't be the last. High-tech gear has become intertwined in almost every presentation today, and technology, as we all know, is like child actors and animals: It can never be counted on to act predictably once up on stage.
So, what should you do if this type of a Jobsian situation happens to you? Here are expert tips for recovering from a presentation problem.
Have Backup Plans
The list of things that could go wrong during a presentation is horrifying and endless: You're using PowerPoint, and the application freezes. Network speeds plummet. Your handheld device crashes. An embedded video that is a key piece of your presentation just won't load. And then you start getting heckled, and your powers of comedic relief are inaccessible.
Cue the dreaded awkward silence.