In a recent article, President Obama’s tele-prompter use was identified as a barrier preventing him from connecting with his audience. Yesterday, Mr. Obama demonstrated how effective a presenter he can be when he isn’t reading.
Tuesday, while speaking to Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit Tuesday at Carnegie Mellon Auditorium in DC, President Obama had some unexpected technical difficulties. His presidential seal fell off the podium and crashed to the ground.
As prior articles have suggested — P-E-R-F-O-R-M: seven tips for maintaining professionalism – part one, Part two, and Part three — how you react to a technical difficulty is more important than the technical difficulty itself.
Given the recent dire electoral predictions for democrats, and his falling approval ratings, the seal falling could have been disastrously suggestive of a president in free fall. But President Obama reacted with cool, calm, and humor.
“Whoops,” said Obama. “Was that my, uh–?”
He then leaned over the front of the podium to look.
Pausing a beat for audience laughter, he then said, “Oh, goodness. That’s all right. All of you know who I am.”
He paused another beat for laughter before adding, “But I’m sure there’s somebody back there that’s really nervous right now. Don’t ya think? They’re sweating bullets back there right now.”
He then paused, laughed, paused again, and asked, “Where was I?”
It was a brilliant performance that all presenters could draw lessons from. Obama did a number of things right.
- He remained calm. His relaxed demeanor turned a potential humiliation into a small matter.
- He addressed the problem forthrightly. He audience was focused on the issue. Any attempt it ignoring it would have failed.
- He looked where the audience was looking. Stretching to look over the podium broke the speaker/audience wall, creating community with the audience.
- He delivered some humorous lines. The jokes were perfect for the situation. They broke the tension.
- He paused between humorous lines. Humor only works if the audience has enough time to absorb the punch line. By waiting, Obama gained bigger laughs.
- He evoked sympathy for the person responsible. Reminding the audience that someone else hung the seal, and that that person was probably upset right now removed any residue anger from the room.
- He asked for audience help. Asking the audience where he was in his speech was the perfect way to demonstrate he makes mistakes too and to segue back into the presentation.
It effectively demonstrated how Obama, or any presenter, can connect with people when he stops reading.