Five Lessons from Michael Bay's "Meltdown"

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Michael Bay is an American film producer and director. He is best known for big budget action-packed, blow-’em-up movies like Armageddon, The Rock, Pearl Harbor and Transformers. In 2014, Bay spoke—briefly—at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. While nothing blew up, many are calling Bay’s performance a meltdown.

He was invited on stage by Joe Sinziano, Executive Vice-President of Samsung, to promote Samsung’s new high definition curved TV screen. (Yes, this is the beginning of the end. Television is slowly going to start bending around us until we are hopelessly trapped.) Anyway, things quickly went south. Apparently, the teleprompter failed, Bay froze and, after a few mumbled words, walked off stage, leaving Sinziano on his own.
Here’s the entire incident in all of its excruciating awkwardness:

Bay explained himself on his website as follows:

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. And 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.

But I’m doing a special curved screen experience with Samsung and Transformers 4 footage that will be traveling around the world.

Several people on Twitter and elsewhere have suggested that the whole thing might have been a hoax thought up by Samsung to get free PR. It’s certainly within the realm of the possible given other hoaxes that have been propagated, but I have trouble seeing what benefit it would be for Bay.

Does he really need for money, more fans? I doubt it. And, if the incident is proven to be a hoax, his reputation, and that of Samsung will take a massive hit. So I’m saying that the incident was real

What public speaking lessons can we learn from this debacle

1. Prepare

As the old saying goes, if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. You have to know your material. Practice well in advance of the event, even if it is only for a few minutes a day. Repetition is a powerful tool. No matter how busy you are, it should be possible to find 15 to 20 minutes in your day to spend on your talk, whether it is in your living room, during a jog, while driving, etc.

2. Warm up beforehand

When Bay walked on stage, he looked like a bundle of nerves. The wringing hands were just one indication. It’s perfectly natural to be a bit nervous before a presentation, especially a high level one, but you can’t let nerves get the better of you.

Warming up is a great way to help discharge some of that nervous energy. Before you go on stage, find a quiet place and do some gentle stretching, jump up and down, swing your arms or do some other activity to get the blood flowing and the positive energy ramped up. Tony Robbins is known to jump up and down on a mini-trampoline just before he speaks. You don’t need a trampoline, just some some space and privacy.

3. Have a back-up plan

Technology is great. Just ask Michael Bay or Samsung! But if you are dependent on the technology and it fails, you have a problem. If Bay was not able to do the talk without prompts, would it have been so difficult to have notes at the ready? Good old-fashioned paper—whether its cue cards or bullet points on an A4 sheet of paper—still has its place.

4. Don’t make a big deal about the problem

At 0:42 of the video, Michael Bay … makes a deal about the problem. He sighs, spins around, says that the teleprompter is off and draws everyone’s attention straight to the problem. Many times, the audience won’t even know there’s a problem unless you mention it.

If he had to mention the problem, Bay could have done it in a better way. For example, he could have said, “You know what? The teleprompter in front of me has just died. Fortunately, Samsung’s TV behind me is much better quality. Jim [Sinziano], why don’t you just ask me some questions?”

A little humour in the face of adversity when on stage goes a long way with the audience. Admittedly, you have to be able to think on your feet, but if you prepare a contingency plan for difficulties that might arise, the ideas will come more quickly.

5. Get back on the horse

As I have often said, public speaking is a risk. Things can, and do, go wrong, and it’s all part of the package. When things go wrong, accept it, learn from it and move on. Most importantly, get back on the stage as soon as possible so that you do not become gun shy.

Michael Bay should get back on stage at another event as soon as possible. He should prepare beforehand and he should have a contingency plan in place. And, he should leverage his recent experience at the International Consumer Electronics Show by making light of it somehow in his next speech. Bad experiences make for great stories!

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18 Replies to “Five Lessons from Michael Bay's "Meltdown"”

  1. I had not heard people were saying this was planned. That’s nuts!

    Great points. Nick Morgan, Mitch Joel and Seth Godin had something interesting things to say as well. I did a roundup on my own blog this morning.

    One of my biggest takeways, other than the need to prepare, prepare, prepare, is that Michael Bay is clearly not a guy who’s comfortable when things get out of his control!

  2. Solid advice. My only comment is I hesitate to call it a meltdown. I mean he did apologize before he walked off stage and then apologized again online.

    I’ve seen many presentations where I *wish* they’d quit and walk off stage.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Scott. Fair point on “meltdown”. I suppose so many people are using the term because it fits well with the genre of films that Bay is famous for making. And apologizing was a good thing to do. I look forward to seeing what he does the next time he is invited to speak.

  3. And it’s not just being prepared for that event; it’s being prepared for ANY event – or eventuality. As Craig Valentine says, “Don’t get ready; stay ready.”

  4. Could it also be that Mr. Bay simply doesn’t care about Samsungs new device? It certainly won’t affect his film career. It was, in essence, a plug. He didn’t prepare, was probably paid well for the endorsement with the assurance that he should just read the TelePrompTer and when it failed he decided he would rather apologize and walk away rather than look clueless and then craft a more reasoned apology when the dust settled.

    1. Hi John. The scenario as you have described it is certainly possible. However, with a net worth reported to be somewhere between $200 million and $400 million, I can’t help but wonder how much money would be required to get him to endorse a product he doesn’t care about. And, given that he walked off the stage, I wonder whether he will collect anything at all, given that he did not hold up his end of the bargain.

      Regardless of the background to the incident, Bay did leave Samsung, Jim Sinziano and — most importantly — the audience in the lurch. Hey, the guy is human and anyone can make a mistake. The key is for him to learn from the experience and not to repeat it.

  5. John,

    Thanks for the post. I think it is also worth mentioning Joe Sinziano’s performance as an example of what should be done in such situations. His questions as soon as the “meltdown” occurred were aimed to keep the main speaker calm, in his comfort zone, and speaking!. When the speaker unexpectedly left the stage, Joe Sinziano kept his demeanor and his invitation for the audience to thank the speaker helped contain the awkwardness of this situation.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Bryan. Excellent points about Sinziano’s performance. Like Bay, he too was on stage and had to comport himself in an appropriate manner, which, based on the video in the post, he did. Thanks for pointing this out.

  6. Michael Bay’s performance aside, (he’s hired short term & may not know anything about the product he is endorsing), Joe Sinziano should have used the incident to launch himself into a brilliant endorsement rant of his own. That way, many would be (still) speculating wether Michael’s meltdown was deliberately staged, to first catch the audience attention. Then Joe comes in, cool, calm, relaxed and humorously says, “Well, we can’t expect a hired-hand to give you much info on our latest product. That’s where I come in and tell you all about our NEW curved screen, blah, blah, blah.”

    Mr. Sinziano (and any high ranking exec) must also get ready & keep ready, if any uneventful situation arises.
    At least that is how this (me) coreographer, would have done it, “if I were Joe Sinziano”.

    Great post & discussion everyone 😉

    1. Thanks for the comment, Terry. I agree that Joe Sinziano should have been ready in the event that things turn a wrong turn as they did. (It also reinforces the importance of rehearsing together if you are two or more on the stage at the same time.) In fact, I have yet to see what happened on stage after Michael Bay walked off beyond the few seconds on the video in the post. I would be interested to see how Sinziano continued.

  7. I think this incident may have gone a long way towards improving all presentations. It is kind of like the incident where a US court made McDonalds pay a woman $2M because she spilt coffee over herself and it didn’t say it was hot. This made so much press noise that it changed the legal system.

    The “Michael Bay” incident might be just the thing to ensure all presenters really prepare well for the effect of Murphy’s Law – “if it can go wrong, it will”.

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