For obvious reasons, most people dread making a major presentation mistake. We don’t want to look stupid. We don’t want to fail. Ironically, it’s when things do go wrong in a presentation that you actually have a chance to shine the brightest—by showing your ability to handle the moment.
Lessons from The Academy Awards
This year’s Academy Awards ceremony is probably the winner of biggest blunder ever in a pivotal moment of a presentation. They gave the presenters, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, the wrong card, and that set up Beatty and Dunaway to announced the wrong winner for Picture of the Year.
That, my friends, is a presentation gone very, very wrong.
But then something unbelievable happened.
The producer of La La Land, Jordan Horowitz, amidst the growing chaos on stage leaned into the microphone and said, “We lost, by the way, but, you know…”
Horowitz then added, “I’m sorry, there’s a mistake. ‘Moonlight,’ you guys won best picture.”
“This is not a joke,” he said.
All of us watching had pretty much the same thought. “What the…?”
Somewhere in the frenzy of activity that had consumed the stage, Howowitz added, “I’m going to be really thrilled to hand this to my friends from Moonlight,” gesturing toward the producers of Moonlight who were coming on to the stage.
In a moment of total presentation collapse, in front of 200 million people, at the pinnacle of a production that cost millions of dollars to produce, Jordan Horowitz showed a level of humanity, compassion, and elegance that no presentation can ever script.
At the worst possible moment, Horowitz became a lighthouse.
What to do When Things Go Wrong
Sure, Horowitz would have preferred to deliver an acceptance speech that no one would remember or talk about the next day. Instead, he delivered a lesson in grace and class under fire. He literally showed the world how to handle an awful situation with dignity.
He could have railed against the academy.
He could have demanded an explanation.
He could have stormed off the stage and held onto the Oscar.
He brought dignity to chaos.
That can’t happen when everything goes as planned.
Now please understand me. I’m not saying try to screw up the close to your next presentation. But I do want you to keep a few thoughts in mind:
- Sometimes things go wrong at the worst possible moment.
- When they do, all we can control is our reaction.
- If we stay calm and show poise that stands out more than what went wrong.
- Nothing impacts an audience more than being your best at the worst possible moment.
The Biggest Take Away
Here’s the other big take away from the Academy Awards fiasco. No one died. Oh sure, a few people probably wanted to, but no one did.
When things go wrong—sometimes terribly wrong—in a presentation, it can feel at that moment like your world is going to end. It doesn’t. Life goes on. And so will you.
Jimmy Kimmel went back to hosting his show. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway went back to being Hollywood legends, and Jordan Horowitz went back to being a successful movie producer while Moonlight producer Adele Romanski and the rest of the Moonlight team went on to enjoy the night of their lives.
Even when a presentation mistake happens in front of the whole world, on live TV, it isn’t the end of the world. No one dies. Keep that in mind.
Mistakes will happen—sometimes at the worst possible time imaginable. At those times, how you handle this mistakes will often say more about you than anything you had planned to say in your perfect version of the presentation.