Marketing and Advertising Executives Reveal Presentations That Went Awry

Dec 19, 2002

MENLO PARK, CA -- A new survey suggests there's truth to the old saying, "What can go wrong, will go wrong." The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service providing marketing, advertising, creative and web professionals on a project basis, recently asked 250 advertising and marketing executives to describe their most uncomfortable presentation experiences.

Those surveyed were asked, "What is the most unusual or embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you or a colleague during a presentation to a client?" Here are some of their responses:

  • "I was a little nervous and chewing on the end of a felt pen. When I got up to speak I didn't realize the pen had broken and I had ink all over my face. My teeth were black, my mouth was black; I had marker everywhere and didn't realize it!"
  • "A colleague of mine leaned back in his chair to look cool and fell right on his back."

"In today's competitive market, agencies are feeling increased pressure to deliver impressive business presentations," said Tracey Turner, executive director of The Creative Group. "Yet with so many variables involved, even the most seasoned professionals can encounter an occasional setback."

The wrong attire, for example, can have unfortunate consequences, as these next blunders show:

  • "Our account executive had lost a lot of weight, and when he got up to shake hands, his pants fell down."
  • "The creative director slid across the table and his belt buckle got stuck and left a big mark in the wood."
  • "I was in a meeting and my hosiery fell down. I was mortified and stayed seated until the meeting was over."
  • "A woman was presenting in a wraparound skirt and it came undone."
  • "Our senior executive's slip fell during a presentation."

Beverages also may lead to trouble. Here are some cases in point:

  • "I had just become an account executive and I was nervous about presenting at my first big meeting. Having finished and done a decent job, I took a sip of soda that went down the wrong pipe. I started coughing and spitting all over the client's suit. Then as I returned to my side of the table, I tripped on the table and fell to the floor."
  • "I spilled a freshly made cup of coffee across the boardroom table and it poured onto the client's lap."

Technical glitches like the following were at the root of 30 percent of mishaps cited:

  • "The computer didn't work, the television didn't work, the backup copies were lost and we had to handwrite our presentation on a dry-erase board."
  • "We were displaying a TV spot on videotape and my coworker hit record instead of play and taped over it."
  • "The PowerPoint presentation we were giving to more than 1,000 people didn't work and we had to wing it."

With these next gaffes, the material presented may have been the problem:

  • "The client fell asleep and began snoring loudly."
  • "The client laughed because he thought our ideas were so bad."
  • "I pulled out the wrong presentation and showed them a competitor's instead."
  • "We misspelled the client's name."
  • "We were presenting to an international client and got the origin of their country all wrong."

Then there were snafus that simply couldn't be avoided:

  • "We had to go into our company's tornado shelter during a hail storm, which did $6,000 worth of damage to the client's car."
  • "I was delivering a presentation on an airplane and got food poisoning. I couldn't get up due to turbulence and became ill in front of the client."
  • "When the account manager sat down at the conference table, the back of the chair broke, and she was trapped between the chair and the wall."
  • "Careful preparation can help prevent some, but not all, presentation problems," said Turner. "It's important to be able to think on your feet. A potentially embarrassing moment can be an opportunity to show grace under pressure."

Turner offered the following tips for recovering after a presentation slip-up:

  • Remain calm. Don't panic. Instead, take a deep breath and focus on keeping your composure. Smiling will make you appear more in control.
  • Acknowledge the problem. Address the situation in a humorous way if possible. A quick one-liner can make everyone feel more at ease. 
  • Take a break. If it's a matter that could take a few minutes to resolve, such as a technical glitch or a spill, suggest a quick "intermission." This will give you time to tackle the issue out of the spotlight.
  • Have a "Plan B." Don't rely solely on technical equipment. If you can't get your electronic presentation running in 10 minutes, be prepared to go on without it.
  • Move on. Get back on track as soon as possible. The faster you recover, the less memorable the foul-up will be.

The Creative Group has offices in major markets across the United States and in Canada and offers online job search services at

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