People who dread public speaking (maybe you’re one of them?) have nightmares about the kind of thing that happened to film director Michael Bay at the Consumer Electronics Show.

The “Transformers” director was supposed to be touting a new Samsung curved screen.  He had problems with the teleprompter … said he’d just wing it … then apologized … and walked off the stage.

The Samsung guy who’d introduced him tried to help. He asked Bay a question about his own work – he shouldn’t need a teleprompter for that – but Bay was so flustered he gave up.

Bay blogged later about embarrassing himself, made a splash in the technology and show biz news, and of course the video’s all over the web. 

You might feel sorry for the guy. And of course some people seem to delight in his humiliation.  My take? There are lessons here for all of us.

Technology can only take you so far

Most business speakers never use a teleprompter. But they do depend on projectors and laptops and audio systems. And any of those can fail.

Technology-wise, have a back-up plan.  Your own computer. A flash drive in case you have to use someone else’s. And a print-out of your notes in case none of those work.

Better yet, be ready to do it the old-fashioned way.

Great speakers can tell their story and make their point without depending on Powerpoint or ‘prompters. You know the message you want to get across; be prepared to just say it without all the gizmos.

And you’re always better off talking to your audience rather than reading to them.

On the subject of being prepared …

It pays off. You need to know your material cold. Rehearse. Then rehearse again.

Some people refuse to rehearse because they want to sound natural; they think rehearsal will make them stilted.

The truth is, practicing your presentation will help you sound more natural, not less.  When you’re well-prepared, you can let go of the effort to “get it right” and just have a conversation with your audience.

For a high-stakes presentation – a new business pitch or a speech at a big event – it pays to practice in the space you’ll be using, with the technology you’ll be using. (Or hoping to, anyway.)

Your Presence is more important than your presentation.

People walk away with an impression of you that comes more from how you are in front of the room than what you say.

Do you seem comfortable in your own skin? At ease with your audience? Confident about your message?

The path to a powerful stage presence is being present in your body, in the moment. Ground yourself, breathe, let your energy flow freely … and you’re ready for whatever comes up.

If you watched the Michael Bay video, you may have noticed that he seeemed scattered and awkward from the get-go. Not surprising that he was thrown when things didn’t go as planned.

Humor helps.

There’s nothing like a laugh to lighten the energy – yours and the audience’s.

A lot of things can go south in a presentation: you have a brain cramp, the lights go out, someone in the audience is an ass …

It’s a long list and it includes things you’d never guess you’d need to prepare for. Not long ago, I had a waiter walk up to me in the middle of my talk and tell me to be quiet! 

I made a joke of it and kept right on going.  We all got a good laugh out of it, and several people asked later if I’d planned it, because the disruption fit into my material so well.

One cautionary note about humor:  laughing at yourself is always better than laughing at someone else.  And telling a canned joke rarely works unless you’re Jerry Seinfeld or Louis C.K. Even for the pros, the spontaneous moments are often the funniest.

Connect with your audience.

I suggest that my clients think of it as a conversation rather than a presentation.

Very few people want to listen to a speech.  But good conversation is appealing. So have a conversation with your audience.

That might mean they actually participate – asking questions or making comments.  But even if you’re doing all the talking, you want to talk to them as if you’re genuinely interested in them. In what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling.

 If you can be genuinely interested in them, it takes some of the pressure off of you.  You’ll be more relaxed and natural. And they will be on your side. 

Okay, once in awhile, a business presenter faces a truly hostile audience. But it’s rare. Most of the time, the people listening to you want you to do well. Capitalize on that good will by nurturing the connection between you and them.

The show must go on.

You’d think a Hollywood honcho would know that, wouldn’t you?  I was surprised to see that Michael Bay fled the stage.

I can relate to the feeling. I’ve wanted to flee from the front of a room – maybe you have too.

Don’t do it.

When things don’t work out as planned, you can pause and regroup, you can make it funny, you can even ask for help from your audience.  But you have to hold the stage.

And there may be some comfort in this … our presentation mis-steps aren’t likely to wind up on Bloomberg News and TMZ and every technology blog in the country.