Stuff happens. But when it does, especially to a high-profile individual at a major event, you can bet the whole world will know about it seconds after it happens.
One incident that come to mind involved Elton John, who stormed off the stage during a Vegas gig last year after a fan jumped on stage and disrupted his performance. Another occurred when Kanye West flipped his mic in the air a few years back during the Pan Am Games in Toronto after technical difficulties just seemed too much for him.
Some of these incidents are more about who they are and, beyond simple bad manners, no big deal.
But one incident I can’t seem to forget happened just over five years ago to Michael Bay, a Hollywood director and producer, known for films such as Armageddon, The Rock and the Transformers movie series. Bay was hired by Samsung to promote the new ultra-high-def 4K TVs at the International CES 2014, but when an issue came up with the teleprompter, he had a meltdown. Within a minute of the beginning of the presentation he walked off the stage, never to return, leaving the audience totally dumbfounded.
Bay made a feeble attempt to “wing-it” without the teleprompter and Samsung EVP Joe Stinziano tried to come to the rescue by prompting Bay with questions for him to answer.
But it didn’t work.
Later, Bay admitted in his blog that he had embarrassed himself. He then went on to explain what had transpired:
“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 (operator) got lost. Then the prompter went up and down – then I walked off. I guess live shows aren’t my thing.”
My first thought was that he was truly only a behind-the-camera type of guy, with a fear of public speaking. He admitted in an interview with TMZ that he had cracked under pressure.
How could Bay have avoided the meltdown or at least minimized the damage?
First, he should have just stopped and taken the time to take a breath and gather his thoughts. He then should have come clean with the audience, acknowledging the situation.
A joke such as “I guess I’m better behind the camera than in front of it, so bear with me as it is not about me, it’s about you and Samsung and this incredible 105-inch ultra hi-def TV” would have been appropriate. Everyone could have had a good laugh and gotten on with business. It might still have made the headlines, but with a positive spin.
Second, Bay could have helped his own cause by not letting his ego get in the way. He forgot that his gig was all about the audience, not about himself. “I just wanted to crawl into a hole” he told TMZ.
Third, once his feet were firmly back on the ground, he could have asked the teleprompter technician to start over, and tell the audience “We want to give you full value of the presentation, so let’s back things up a bit. Everyone OK with that?”
Fourth, Bay should have brought along notes as a backup. If his lack of tech knowledge was the root of his stress, it would have been best to say so and maybe talk about what he does know. Today’s audiences are forgiving when an honest mistake happens, but don’t try to bluff your way through or you will be called on it.
What he shouldn’t have done was tell people he was going to wing-it, especially as he didn’t even seem to be prepared for an impromptu presentation. That was disrespectful to the audience.
But every crisis creates an opportunity. Thanks to social media, the whole world will remember Michael Bay’s meltdown. And Samsung probably got a whole lot more mileage than it expected. For us mere mortals, it’s a great reminder how we react and what we do when things go awry can have a lasting impact.
Greg Gazin, also known as the Gadget Guy and Gadget Greg, is a syndicated veteran tech columnist, communication, leadership and technology speaker, facilitator, blogger, podcaster and author. Greg is also a Distinguished Toastmaster, a Past Toastmasters District Governor and an 11-year member of the New Entrepreneurs Toastmasters. Reach him @gadgetgreg or at GadgetGuy.ca.