michaelbayFamed movie director Michael Bay had a simple chore to handle at the CES show currently underway in Las Vegas.  He had to walk out on stage after a terrific, high-voltage introduction, read some words endorsing a new Samsung TV from a teleprompter, and get back offstage.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, here’s how Michael himself explains it:

Wow! I just embarrassed myself at CES – I was about to speak for Samsung for this awesome Curved 105-inch UHD TV. I rarely lend my name to any products, but this one is just stellar. I got so excited to talk, that I skipped over the Exec VP’s intro line and then the teleprompter got lost. Then the prompter went up and down – then I walked off. I guess live shows aren’t my thing.

Watch the video. It’s riveting and awful.

As the entire human species knows, the show must go on.  That means, when you’re onstage and the eyeballs are on you, you must deliver.  You don’t have to deliver brilliantly.  But you do have to show up – and go the distance.  Instead Bay gave up.

What’s interesting is that his body language from his entrance signaled his discomfort, even before the teleprompter problem.  Watch his leg shooting up like a teenager getting kissed as he shakes the hand of the emcee.  Bay is already not doing well, and his body knew he was in trouble before the trouble began.  That made it much harder for him to respond to the teleprompter problem when it arose.

The moral of this sad tale?  There are 3 takeaways.

1.  Prepare for the worst.  You need to rehearse any time the stakes are high.  You need to rehearse, period.  And you need to have a back up plan for technological problems, because those always happen, one way or another.

2.  Hope for the best.  You need to psych yourself up emotionally to go out and deliver a strong performance.  If you focus on your nerves and what could go wrong, you’ll walk out like Bay, already a basket case.  An accident waiting to happen.  Instead, focus on the positive opportunity.  Tell yourself, “Wow, what a chance to connect with hundreds of wonderful people!  It’s going to be great!”  If you just stand backstage thinking about what could go wrong, then you’ll start out with a problem that can rapidly escalate out of control, as it did for Bay.

3.  Focus, not on yourself, but on the job you need to do.  Michael’s job was to say something nice about the Samsung TV.  When the teleprompter when wrong, and Bay said, “I’ll just wing it,” that’s exactly what he should have done.  The emcee tried to prompt him to do this, saying, in a highly adrenalized voice, “The Curve?” and gesturing toward the TV.  But Bay was too focused on his own discomfort, and let go of the task.

Bay did acknowledge the hippo in the room – the malfunctioning teleprompter – but he wasn’t clear enough about his assignment to get it done in spite of that hippo.  Learn from Bay!  He’s a brilliant director and will survive this embarrassment.  After all, he’s supposed to shine behind the camera, not in front of it.  But anyone who makes a living – even in part – from onstage work needs to drill the lesson deep into the psyche:  focus, show up, go the distance and get the job done.   You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to get the job done.  

http://youtu.be/R4rMy1iA268

Image Source: Wikipedia

20 Comments

  1. Mortifying. Yes, I bet he didn’t rehearse or take the rehearsal process seriously. At least he took some responsibility for the foul-up, admitting the problem started with him skipping lines. (Not sure why that would have confused the TelePrompter operator that much, though …)

    I’m also guessing with the business he is in, where he has to exercise massive control over tons of details, that “winging it” is very far from his thing.

    1. Hi, Rob —

      Thanks for your comment. And yes, he had the look of someone doing an unfamiliar thing. I think you’re right — offstage is his normal mode. Most Teleprompter operators are very good at following missteps like that. I suspect we’re not getting the whole story on what went wrong with the cueing.

  2. Anyone who has spoken more than a few times has had this happen. A/V problems are far too common, and Bay should have handled it much better. Fleas come with the dog.

    Make a joke. Laugh it off. Remark that, at THE tech conference, isn’t it ironic that this is happening.

    Bottom line: Public speaking is rarely perfect.

  3. Thanks for the very compassionate and useful column, Nick. Loved the body-language detail about his leg popping up. The poor guy looked ready to expire up there! Our events group was buzzing about this yesterday, although their focus was on what a disaster the AV operation must have been.

    1. Hi, Maryfran — good to hear from you. And yes; no one from the Samsung effort comes out of this looking great.

  4. Well we have all been there no matter how much we speak. The body tenses up, the mouth goes dry and the breathing goes shallow. Then we have the wardrobe malfunction.

    But as Churchill (or perhaps Twain) was known to remark. “My ability to speak extemporaneously takes many hours of practice”. There is no winging it.

    1. Thanks, James, and good point — every speaking career has an episode like this in it. I always tell clients that you can handle one thing going wrong. If you’re doing well, you can handle 2 things going wrong. But add a third, and the majority of speakers will get the deer-in-the-headlights look and freeze. From there, it’s anybody’s guess….

  5. Although it may not always be possible, I have found that getting to the audiences level helps. You are not on the pedestal with all eyes staring up.
    Also, always show enthusiasm for what you’re speaking about.
    This is especially important in product / sales presentations. If Bay had just tried to convey his belief in the product he would have been less inclined to worry about how he had to deliver.

  6. First of all, kudos to Mr. Bay for his humble response. Having only read disparaging headlines prior to reading this article, I was expecting an arrogant diatribe against everyone around him.

    Second, the first time I did a presentation in front of an audience, it was AWFUL! I’m glad I don’t have footage of it, because I probably would never have spoken in front of people again.

    Third, I’m fairly comfortable speaking to groups now; I do so fairly often. The last real mess-up for me was at my daughter’s wedding during the toast I was to give. The big reason I screwed up is that I had notes! I was so concerned about making sure that I said what I wanted to that I wrote out a little card and took it to the stage with me — and goofed up royally! Why? Because it was unfamiliar. I would have been better off speaking without the card.

    Yes, I know what a big event CES is, but it seems to me that Michael Bay is a bigger man!

  7. Could it have been staged? After all, the incident has received attention on all the networks and it looks like Samsung will win the attention derby this year at CES as a result. Would be a brilliant move as everyone can sympathize with a busted teleprompter and a humble human that adores the new Samsung TV.

    I put this forward, because a few PR friends of mine had that immediate response. “Brilliant move!”

  8. Ouch! It would have been so simple to say “Ooops our carefully prepared script failed but the essence is The Curve gives you a theater-like immersive experience into the worlds i create.” but I guess the poor guy just freaked out… Group hug.

  9. This was an epic fail no two ways about it.

    He isn’t some newbie or marketing person with corporate communications training. He is a top echelon Hollywood director who GETS performances out of people.

    What if the TelePrompTer went funny when he was presenting an academy award? Would he walk off and say oops in front of all his peers? Nope! Would he spaz out at ComicCom? No way!

    I think either or both of these happened: he got distracted because he never looked at his copy and figured these are just conventioneers so who cares and/or I hate to say it he was high on something and freaked.

    Meanwhile kudos to the pro on stage from Samsung who tried to keep it going and then asked the audience to give Bay a completely undeserved ovation while his huge product launch was going down in flames.

  10. Nick, you are correct, there is more to this story. At the heart of it is that the teleprompter did not malfunction.
    Without going into the details, they were following his lead (it’s what they do – they follow) and giving him the next line.

    Sure, it was nice of him to – after the fact – issue a statement that he was embarrassed. But perhaps he also needs to apologize to the person he blamed for throwing him off — the person who was trying desperately to help him, even as he skipped around. Had he only the presence of mind to take a breath and start over, we wouldn’t be debating another viral victimization.

    You may not experience this much, Mr. Bay, but it is ok to fail. We little people learn and grow from our mistakes. What’s not ok is to scapegoat someone for that failure. And it’s certainly not cool to do it to a reporter who is so worried about getting their scoop out first that they won’t bother to fact-check before putting a story into the ether.

    I think it’s sad that a fabulous company like Samsung had to have this happen on their stage, and I hope for their sake that the old adage about publicity is true. And bravo to the executive onstage for his grace under pressure.

    But it’s also sad that Mr. Bay is getting publicity out of this. Because frankly, if this is the only thing I’d ever heard about him, I’d wonder why anyone would ever work with him.

    And yes, Nick, we all need to learn from this. Including Michael Bay.

    1. Bethal —

      Thanks so much for the insight. I’ve worked with many teleprompter folks over nearly 30 years in the businenss and I agree — the fault is usually in the star, not the operator.

    1. Hi, Marc — thanks for the comment. Everyone, check out Marc’s blog. First, I admire his courage in being willing to jump out of an airplane. Second, it does make a great analogy to speaking and storytelling! Read the post….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*