What Madonna’s fall at the BRITs can teach us about presenting

Madonna’s accidental fall off the stage during her live performance at the Brit Awards this year sent the world’s media into overdrive.

Reactions on Twitter and Facebook went from disbelief to horror to empathy for the singer, who seemed to sustain a nasty bump on the head not to mention a huge dent to the ego.

While the outpouring of comments kept coming, many supportive, a few nasty, the overriding feeling was of admiration for the way she jumped right back into her stride, despite obviously being shaken up and inevitably in pain.

But Madge is the consummate professional and has been performing in front of people most of her life.

She wasn’t going to let a wardrobe malfunction (her stage costume cape was tied too tight around her neck) jeapordise her whole performance. And she can teach us all a lot about how to handle ourselves when an ‘external’ factor out of our immediate control goes wrong during our working day.

If you translate the concept of this stage performance into your everyday working life as an Account Manager, no doubt at some point you would have been in a similar position.

You’ll have been in a situation (formal meeting) when you’re dancing (pitching/presenting) in front of a live audience (client) and something unexpected happens to stop you in your tracks.

Maybe you’ve forgotten your laptop power cable, perhaps your presentation file disappears from the folder you thought you’d saved it to, you accidentally hook your foot around your bag as you walk to the front of the room and trip up, etc etc.

Whatever it is, you can never be sure something won’t stop you in your tracks.

So how can you reduce the risk of something going wrong when presenting to a client?

1. Prepare

If you’re using any kind of presentation, have a back up plan in case you lose it. For example if it’s on Keynote, save one version to your laptop, one version to a couple of memory sticks and email the final version to yourself to a Gmail or Hotmail account (you can retrieve it on someone else’s computer if yours doesn’t work).

2. Rehearse

If you’re relying on anyone else’s audio visual equipment, make sure you’ve tested it’s compatible with your laptop in advance. We had a situation where the client’s overhead projector made all our slides look slightly blue. The impact of all our fabulous creative work on the audience was lost. We even decided to buy our own projector after that in case this ever happened again.

3. Manage the unexpected

Whatever happens, try not to make a mountain out of a molehill and let it devastate you. Laugh and make a joke if you want to (most people will empathise with you as they have probably been in a similar situation at some point) but don’t let it stop you for too long.

4. Pick yourself up quickly

Try to resolve the situation quickly and regain composure. The quicker you can do this, the better in the long run. You have limited time to get your message across, your client is busy and time is ticking.

5. Carry on professionally

Madge’s defining moment was when she was on the floor, a split second after she fell. Her dancers were probably as shell shocked as she was. Can you imagine if she’d stood up and just hobbled off the stage?

She’s made of stronger stuff and realized she was still physically able to push herself to finish the performance and did so with grace. The reaction from everyone was of admiration and support.

You want the same reaction from your audience. You’ll gain respect for battling on.

Can you think of a time when something’s gone wrong during a client presentation? How did you handle it? Please share in the comments (funniest answers win a prize).

If you haven’t seen the video yet, you can watch it here:

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