How Steve Jobs Beats Presentation Panic

Trouble can sneak up on the best presenters—just ask Steve Jobs about his Wi-Fi connection at Monday's iPhone 4 announcement. But you can use strategies to mitigate PPT meltdowns and awkward silences, says presentation expert and The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs author Carmine Gallo. Here are his expert tips.

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Gallo recalls a presentation Jobs made a few years back when a presentation slide wouldn't advance. Calmly, Jobs announced that the slides weren't advancing—"so that his people would know there was an issue," Gallo says. "And he's troubleshooting as he's speaking: 'There's a slide problem and they're not advancing...oh well, someone will get that fixed.'" That led Jobs to bring up a fond and funny story about him and cofounder Steve Wozniak. While Jobs told the story (which the audience loved), the Apple team fixed the slide problem, and when Jobs ended the anecdote, he simply moved on.

"He never let that glitch set him off his game," Gallo says.

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

The ability to deal with glitches demonstrates the difference between a good presenter and a below average one.

"If it's a small enough glitch where nobody in the audience knows that something is supposed to happen, don't call attention to it," Gallo points out. "I've seen this happen all the time. People said: 'Oh, that slide is not supposed to be there.' Or: 'Oh, I don't want to show you that!' It makes you look bad, and it brings the whole presentation to a halt."

[ In the "so bad it's good" category, CIO.com honors the best of the worst PowerPoint slides. See: 8 PowerPoint Train Wrecks and 8 More PowerPoint Train Wrecks ]

In addition, you shouldn't panic over a couple of seconds of silence as you gather yourself after a technical hiccup, such as a slow network connection. "When something like that happens, take your time, pause for a minute, and remember that it's OK to have some dead air," Gallo says. "People keep thinking they just have to keep talking, talking, talking through something because they are afraid of a vacuum of silence. Twenty seconds to you may seem like an eternity, but it's not too big a deal in the context of a presentation."

During Jobs's WWDC presentation, there were several instances where he took some quiet time to try to remedy his technical issues and figure out his next step. "He was not afraid of the pause," Gallo points out. His use of humor (and, admittedly, an adoring crowd) also helped to diffuse any audience discomfort.

Gallo's own "One more thing..." (e-mailed to me after our interview) is a useful analogy that he tells his clients to remember when they invariably have to deal with a presentation mistake: "When a figure skater falls, everyone is rooting for the person to get up and finish the performance," Gallo says. "Pull yourself up and get on with it. Enjoy the performance."

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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