The silver lining to a public speaking meltdown

Last week, Transformers director Michael Bay started a firestorm of “what not to do when public speaking” when he walked off the stage at the CES conference because his teleprompter wasn’t working.

What quickly followed in the blogosphere were all the analyses and deconstructions of “The Meltdown:” Why he fled the stage, how he “fell apart,” what went wrong, what he could have done, what he should have done, where the organizers went wrong, how to deal with a fear of public speaking, and on and on.
My favorite among the many articles was Mitch Joel’s insightful and empathetic If You’re Going To Speak In Public, Please Don’t Do This…  His article made me realize two key things that I didn’t see covered in most articles:

  1. The first 60 seconds are the worst. Deal with it. It will pass. Most people feel the most anxiety within the first 30-60 seconds of their presentation. Michael Bay was on stage for exactly one minute, from the moment he was introduced until the moment he walked off. That first minute is the most challenging time, as you get accustomed to being in front of the audience, try to look confident, and try to remember what exactly it is you want to say. The highest level of nerves – and fidgeting – happen right here. So what do you do about it? Prepare so much that there’s no question that you’ll fail. Stick with it. Breathe. You’ll have to get through those first feelings of discomfort before you can hit your stride and start to realize that what you have to say is interesting, and the audience really does want to hear it.
  2. Do you apologize? I’m not a big fan of telling an audience that you’re nervous, or apologizing to them because of it — but in Michael Bay’s case, if it would have kept him from leaving the stage, then so be it. With a deep breath and a moment to compose himself, he could have “re-centered,” and allowed himself to share his genuine knowledge and expertise with the audience. It was a lost opportunity to show his audience how he’s vulnerable, nervous, and essentially, “just like us.” What a great moment of connection that could have been.

Fortunately, there is a big silver lining to this:
1. This is a warning of what could happen if you don’t prepare for everything surrounding a presentation; for the presentation itself, for technology failure, for when anxiety hits, if you go blank. You’ve got to be prepared with a backup plan for every scenario.
2. You can bet that Michael Bay will NEVER let this happen again, and will probably be prepared within an inch of his life for all his future presentations. I hope he gets back on stage soon.

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