The next thing that people ask - especially with Toastmasters since you aren't given much time to prepare - is what to do when things start to go wrong.
I have a 5 step process that I personally use, which you can (and should) practice in the middle of a presentation (or any high-stress moment) when panic threatens to cloud your faculties.
When things go awry or appear to be going badly, remember to practice these 5 steps:
2. Become still and silent
4. Focus on the task at hand
5. Speak / Act
In more detail, what do I mean and how do these steps help?
First, you need to become aware that something has gone awry or simply differently than as planned. You may become acutely aware that panic threatens to take over and impede your ability to function.
2) Become still and silent
Generally, we will telegraph our inner state to our audiences through some verbal or non-verbal comment. A sigh, a frown, an apology – an overwhelming impulse to ask permission, “Can I start over?” DON’T INDULGE THE IMPULSE! Simply, become still and silent.
This will help your body and brain begin to settle and function. In addition, you won’t give off any clues to your audience that inform them of your inner state. In fact, if you can be still, their attention level will increase as the tension builds. They will be waiting to hear what comes next.
It seems so simple but often in moments of anxiety we tend to forget to take a deep breath. Breathing will lower your heart-rate and blood pressure. It will bathe your brain in fresh oxygen, allowing you to think more lucidly. You will make better decisions when you remember to breathe deeply.
Focus on the task at hand
It’s easy to indulge our panicky thoughts.
“Oh, sh**! I cannot remember what is next. My heart is really pounding now. I hate this feeling – and now it’s even worse. Why did I agree to do this presentation?!?!”
“My God! This is the wrong PowerPoint slide. What am I supposed to say now?!?!”
“My cell phone is ringing – I am SO screwed. When I walk over there to turn it off, it will be obvious that it’s mine. What a moron I am!”
We want our mind to be focused – to become still and settled so that we can make better choices. The metaphor that I recently discovered is this: It's a bit like enjoying the stillness of a beautiful pond. Suddenly, a large stone drops into the pond, ruining the stillness of the water's surface. That large stone is the thought in our mind that says, “This is bad!” So, in response to this, in our panic and frustration, we throw a handful of pebbles into the pond by indulging our thoughts about the ‘mistake’, shouting, "Hey, you stupid pond! Settle down!"
The Chinese character for ‘crisis’ also means ‘opportunity’. Instead, ask the question, “Is this really a crisis? Is there some way I can I turn this into an opportunity?” I have seen some memorable moments flow from what could be easily branded as ‘mistakes’.
Remember, when things go “wrong”, ask yourself, “How can I turn this into an opportunity?”
5) Speak / Act
Once you have completed the process above, you will be ready to speak or take some action without having indulged in your fear (thereby giving it power over you) or signaling to your audience that you have struggled through a tough moment.
This process will work in any high stakes communication: a conference call with important clients, a one-on-one meeting with senior management, or a presentation at a large conference.
Repeated practice will give you a greater sense of control. You are much more likely to remain calm and to make better choices when you employ it on a regular basis.