Technology Give You the Middle Finger in a Demo? 7 Reactions to Avoid

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Meg Prater (she/her)
Meg Prater (she/her)


Internet outages, bad phone connections, products that stop working … chances are, you’ve experienced plenty of technical snafus in the middle of a demo. There’s always something new that can and will go wrong. The good news is that these challenges don’t have to derail your deal or even your demo.

Avoid the seven blunders below, and impress your prospects with your honesty, professionalism, and adaptability.

What Not to Do When Technology Fails

Don’t get flustered

You’ve likely given roughly the same presentation a hundred times -- but on any given day, you may experience a brand-new technical difficulty. Don’t panic.

Psychology Today warns that when stressful situations arise, our body’s emergency responders start working. Sweaty palms, a racing heart, or tearing eyes are signs your automatic nervous system has switched into high gear.

To regulate your emotional reaction to a difficult moment, start by slowing your breath. To do this, recall the schoolyard method of counting to five or 10 before responding. This slows your breathing and helps regulate your reactions.

Once your prefrontal cortex -- the planning part of your brain -- signals for the rest of your body to relax, you can better assess the situation and identify appropriate next steps.

Don’t take up too much time

If there’s an easy fix to your technical problem, take care of it and move on. If there’s not, be respectful of your prospect’s time, and know when to end the presentation early.

Prepare for common tech issues by bringing your own computer dongle to meetings, printing off slides, or having another conference line ready.

If the issue is outside your control, like a bad internet connection or a meeting software outage, don’t take more than five minutes of your prospect’s time to rectify the problem. Instead, apologize to your meeting attendees and outline next steps:

  1. I’ll get to the bottom of this issue and let you know when it is rectified.
  2. I’ll reschedule our meeting and send you an invite by end of day.
  3. Before I let you go, are there any questions about what we were able to cover today?

Don’t keep apologizing

When technology failures occur, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. You know it, your prospect knows it, and profuse apologizing only draws further attention to the issue.

Apologize once when the initial malfunction occurs and once as you’re signing off -- whether you fixed the problem or not.

Further excuse-making or apologizing undermines your authority, appears unprofessional, and wastes more time. Keep the mood light and focused on your troubleshooting efforts rather than on the issue itself.

Don’t point fingers

Technology mishaps are a byproduct of living and working in the digital age. One of the least helpful ways to proceed is by distributing blame. Once your breathing is under control and you’ve assessed whether to move forward with the presentation, avoid blaming others for the issue.

If an assistant forgot to bring a charger or an internet company has been unable to fix your connection for a week, call the tech blunder what it is: A mistake or an unfortunate occurrence.

This is a faster, more professional response than blaming Dave from Design for editing your presentation at 11:00 p.m. last night and deleting half your slides.

What Not to Do When Products Fail

Don’t make excuses

When your product fails during a demo, it’s embarrassing for you and your company. Your first inclination might be to make excuses. “Oh, I forgot they were updating feature X today. That must be why it’s not working,” or “Hmm, this has never happened before. It might just be the browser.”

These excuses might be true -- but they’re still excuses, and you risk looking insincere or dishonest. Instead, say, “Sorry about that, I’m not sure what the issue is here but I’ll look into it and circle back with an answer.” Then move on to the rest of your demo.

Don’t act like nothing’s wrong

Hoping your prospect didn’t see that button didn’t work is not the way to go. If a product is malfunctioning, don’t say, “You know what, let’s try to access it another way,” or “Let’s try this instead.” This makes your product seem difficult to use and you seem less trustworthy.

Be honest with your prospect when a part of your product isn’t working, and promise to alert them when a solution has been implemented.

Once you’ve addressed the issue, move forward with alternate access or skip to a different point in your demo. By facing the issue head on, you and your product will remain trustworthy and solution oriented.

Don’t troubleshoot in real time

Unlike technical difficulties, you likely know exactly who to talk to about a product malfunction. But resist the urge to send a quick Slack or email message, which can result in lost time, a distracted audience, and a loss of professionalism.

It’s tempting to fix the problem in real time -- because, maybe you can -- but you also risk learning the problem is bigger than anticipated, or the answer is messier than you care to explain to the prospect. In that case, it can negatively affect your concentration or leave an even worse impression on your prospect.

Technology fails are a part of business. Most prospects will understand you’re only human and your product, like all technology, is bound to fail from time to time. When it happens, acknowledge the moment, avoid these seven blunders, and move forward in a positive and productive way.

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