He may have been tarred with the brush of a teleprompter pro who is lost without his crutch, but President Obama does have a certain gift for repartee, as he proved again this week.
At Fortune’s summit of 100 Most Powerful Women 2010, the presidential seal dropped off the podium during Obama’s address. Clearly, not a moment to ignore the elephant in the room and just carry on with the planned speech. Obama handled it very well. Here’s the video clip.
“That’s all right. All of you know who I am.”
And then, to make an additional joke which wasn’t necessary but was certainly welcomed by the audience: “But I’m sure there’s somebody back there [who’s] really nervous right now.”
We can take two lessons from this. Firstly, we might not all be presidents, but very often when we’re on stage, we see fit to remind everyone who we are – mainly by putting our company logo on every slide. If the audience needs reminding which company you represent – particularly in an internal presentation – then there’s something seriously wrong which a tiny logo in the corner will not resolve. That logo is a waste of valuable slide real-estate, and it distracts people from your message.
Secondly, this is a great example of using humour to get through a difficult moment.
Things can go wrong on stage, and as Murphy often seems to enjoy wreaking havoc at presentations, they often do. Witness Steve Jobs trying to launch the iPhone 4 but failing the demo because of too many WiFi communicators in the auditorium. (I imagine someone behind the scenes was particularly nervous when that happened…) In fact, Apple is well-known for its slick presentations, but they’ve had their share of mishaps over time, as this video shows.
Steve Jobs is very good at using humour to get through such tough moments and make light of on-stage mishaps: “It’s pretty awesome when it works” or “And that’s why we have backup systems here”. You can do the same, especially if you practise your timing and delivery.
Forget what you’re supposed to say next? “You know, I told them I’d need a teleprompter, but they bought you coffee instead. At least it gives you something to drink while I make something up.”
The projector doesn’t work? “Well, let’s do this the old-fashioned way: I talk, and you listen – deal?” or “Look on the bright side, this way if you close your eyes, you won’t miss anything.”
The microphone doesn’t work? “That’s OK, I’ll just talk louder, it’ll be fine. They didn’t have microphones in Shakespeare’s day. If any of you were around back then, please turn on your hearing aids now.”
Someone comes in late? “No problem, please take a seat. You’ve missed the free gadgets, but you’re just in time for the charity collection.” Or perhaps: “Excellent, I was just looking for a volunteer.”
Do you have some witty ways to handle unexpected interruptions and mishaps? I’d love to hear them.