I’m not going to get into whether Will Smith slapping Chris Rock during the Oscars was staged or real, if Will was justified in defending his wife, or if we need to rethink comedy that mocks individuals. If you want to have that conversation, meet me over on Facebook. What I want to talk about is the composure and professionalism displayed by Chris Rock in the heat of the moment.
If you do work that puts you on a platform routinely, eventually you’ll find yourself in a situation where things go south. It may not be as critical as being assaulted in front of an audience of 10 million people, but when you’ve spent weeks (or months) working on that game-changing presentation and your slides won’t work, it can feel like the end of the world.
Chris Rock did three things that we can all replicate if we find ourselves in an embarrassing situation with an audience watching.
Step 1: Acknowledge the Issue
There’s a school of thought that if you address what’s going wrong, you give more energy to it. But by failing to address it, you’re leaving your audience to sit with the discomfort, which can keep them from being able to move on.
Stop Signs and Yield Signs
Am I suggesting that you should point out every minor thing that is off during a presentation or media appearance? No, but think about it this way: there are yield signs and there are stop signs. If you’re doing a TV interview and you forget a point, but you’re able to quickly recover, that’s a yield sign – keep going. But if you draw a total blank that goes on so long that your audience is wondering what’s going on, that’s a stop sign. Don’t ignore the stop signs.
How do you acknowledge it? A simple, light-hearted statement will do. Something like, “The memory just isn’t what it used to be,” or “I see technology isn’t on my side today,” will let your audience know they aren’t losing it, and something is indeed happening that isn’t supposed to. This allows you to cleanly move to step #2…
Step 2: Find Your Transition
Chris Rock took a moment to compose himself and then said, “That was the greatest moment in the history of television.” That allowed him to get back to presenting the award.
If you’re giving a speech or presentation and your technology isn’t working, at some point, you must decide how to proceed. I counsel my clients never to be so dependent on their slides or AV that if it goes down, your presentation is doomed. If your slides are a visual reminder of what comes next, have a copy on a table or lectern nearby that you can refer to if necessary.
A Word about Video
While integrating video into presentations can add a very dynamic element, it can just as easily backfire. Unless you’re operating in a room/venue that you’re very familiar with or you have strong technical support present, think twice before adding it.
Step 3: Complete the Mission
If you had been in Chris Rock’s shoes, what would your reaction had been? Walk off? Fight back? I’m not saying that any of those choices would have been misplaced. But Rock was able to compose himself and move forward with the assignment of presenting the award for Best Documentary Feature, which was a life-changing moment for QuestLove and his producing partners.
Your audience has an expectation – to be educated, entertained or whatever your assignment is on the platform. Unless the building is on fire, a professional’s default should be to find a way to bring it home. That may mean abandoning your original plan and finding another way to get it done.
Why It’s Not Always Easy
Here’s what can make that difficult: we all have egos. We plan, prepare and have every intention of being magnificent for the benefit of our audience. When that doesn’t happen – especially when it’s because of circumstances outside of our control – it can feel easier to throw people under the bus, pack up your toys and go home. But what about your audience? Is it more important that they know it wasn’t your fault, or that they actually get what they came for? If others caused the mishap, resolve it afterward. But in the moment, do your best to take to focus off yourself so you can serve your audience.
Hopefully you’ll never experience a negatively viral event like Chris Rock’s fate at the 2022 Oscars, but if you take these three tips to heart, you’ll find the resilience to bounce back from the common mishaps that happen on stages and media platforms every day.