The Twitter sphere went into warp speed on Sunday night when the Best Picture Oscar was colossally flubbed on live television before millions of viewers. Though seemingly impossible to mess up (it’s the LAST envelope of the evening!!), it happened, and the consequence was epic confusion, embarrassment, and a cheers-to-tears, and vice versa, all in real time.

I’ve often commented to sales teams that there is direct correlation between the importance of a presentation and the likelihood of technology failure during that presentation. In short…the higher the stakes the higher the chance for mistakes.

Knowing this, the best presenters prepare for failure. What if the Internet doesn’t work? What if the cable adapter is wrong for the projector? What if there is no projector? What if their fancy 55” monitor refuses to cooperate? Or when the slides won’t advance or animate. We’ve all been in the audience during those terribly awkward moments when the presenter asks to play the video – and we stare in silence at a black screen while the presenter squirms and stammers a few lines of banter. Seconds feel like minutes.

The best presenters are always ready with a plan B. So, while we can all hope we’ll never be handed the wrong envelope on live TV (see the end of this piece on my “woulda, shoulda, coulda” for Mr. Beatty and Ms. Dunaway), here are some more predictable fails that you can prepare for, and thereby save your presentation, as well as spare the embarrassment for your audience and yourself:

1.    Prepare for the Internet to fail. It happens so often it’s amazing we’re not expecting this regularly. When you can’t get that signal which was supposed to display your webpages or video:

  • Have static image slides available. Not as good as live, but at least it gives the audience some visual support for your message, and it keeps your presentation flowing.
  • If static images are completely inappropriate (eg: you’re trying to show rich visual movement), have the appropriate URLs listed on a back up slide. Make it big and clear and encourage them to take a picture of the slide with their phones, for later reference. Also, include your contact info on that slide so if they prefer they can request those urls or the deck itself, by email.

2.    Prepare for laptop/projector inoperability: Beware the “can you please send us your presentation on a thumb drive” request from conference organizers. Frequently presentations made on different operating systems don’t display properly. Whenever possible, preview your slides on the system that will ultimately be used for your presentation. If you discover display problems, have your laptop ready for a quick swap out, if possible. And travel with the right compatible accessories (cables, adaptors). Be your own IT nerd.

3.    Prepare to go analog. This is the “DEFCON 1” scenario where your slides are not going to be successfully shown, regardless of work arounds – period. Hand shadows don’t cut it. The best presenters know how to save the moment with an emergency transitional tool like a brief story to introduce the presentation they were supposed to see. Or use “the unexpected” (system failure) to explain how your particular company or service has faced the “the unexpected in the past and had overcome the challenge”. These kind of preparedness tools helps usher your audience from uncomfortable and impatient, to a more listening and engaged state of mind. You both win.

4.  Be Open and Honest during Q&A. When faced with a question that you’re uncomfortable with or don’t have the answer fully sourced – DON’T WING IT. Don’t blurt out “La La Land” if you’re not sure. Be honest with your audience that you don’t have the information to answer the question fully and promise a follow up with the information. And the sooner you can get that answer (perhaps while a colleague is speaking or during a break), the better.

Imagine how different Sunday night would have gone if they simply were honest with the audience. “Ladies and Gentlemen, it appears this is an incorrect category envelope. I sincerely apologize, but if you’ll just allow us a moment to clarify this with the officials backstage, I’ll be back to give the award. Clearly, we want to get this right”.

Clearly you want to get it right when you present in a high stakes environment. Be prepared for epic failures. It increases your odds for epic success.