Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston? As a college student in the 1990s, I remember staying up late into the night, debating one of the more important issues of our time: Which singer had the more powerful voice?
Although we never could agree on which singer was the better vocalist, I continued to follow the trajectory of their careers, always looking forward to their performances. So when Mariah Carey was announced as the headliner for Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin" Eve, I had one more thing to look forward to as we brought in 2017.
Instead of ending 2016 with the bang that viewers were expecting, Carey was the victim of a technology breakdown. At fault, according to Carey's representatives, was a malfunctioning earpiece. Her performance was viewed as a disaster, and she was mercilessly attacked on social media.
What can we as medical professionals learn from this unfortunate situation?
As it turns out, a lot. While we're not "performers," many of us have had opportunities to speak in front of others. If you're like me, you've probably attended hundreds of talks and presentations. Think back to these experiences. Do you remember a time when technology failed either you or the presenter? Was it a frozen computer, a dead battery, or a video that just wouldn't load?
When the unexpected happens, it can be jarring to even the most gifted of speakers. Your ability to recover will be essential to any chance you have of delivering a compelling presentation. The following recommendations will help you overcome such situations:
Regain your composure: Take a deep breath, assess the extent of the problem, and remind yourself that you know the material better than anyone else in the room. The technology may have failed you but you can still make the best of the situation and deliver an impressive performance.
Decide whether the problem needs to be disclosed: If the technological problem will not be appreciated by the audience, there is no need to draw attention to it. Even if you have to gloss over a point or skip something, chances are good that others will not notice. Larger, more persistent issues will need to be addressed. Disclosure will allow the audiovisual team to resolve the situation. By bringing the problem to the attention of the audience, your audience will sympathize with your predicament, and will root for your success.
Stay engaged with your audience: As efforts are being to made to correct the problem, maintain your connection with the audience. Will you keep going with your talk? Will you make light of the situation? Do you want to use the glitch as an opportunity to review what you've discussed? Would this be a good time to take some questions from the audience?
In Carey's situation, despite the efforts of the ABC production crew, the problem could not be resolved.
What can you do if the technology fails you completely? This is where command of your subject or topic is essential. As long as you know the ideas and points you want to express, you can accomplish your goals sans technology.
I hope the unexpected doesn't happen to you. But if it does, the above points will help you rise to the occasion.