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The great Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself” and she was right.

Recently, I was reminded of this lesson again, when I fumbled a Zoom presentation. Even with the years of experience and countless virtual presentations I’d done (seamlessly, for the most part) before… I still blew it in front of 200 people I really respect.

But, it wasn’t that I failed to practice or that I didn’t know the content, it was that I didn’t adapt in the moment. I relied too heavily on technology and when it “glitched”, I didn’t shift. I had gone through the motions and hosted so many “successful” presentations, with “perfect” powerpoints, I wasn’t prepared to go “off-script”.

I hadn’t planned for the unexpected… I hadn’t even considered it.

Navigating the unexpected with confidence and poise is a quality of so many leaders I admire, and, as many of you know, confidence in anything is built on continuous practice and mistakes.

In that spirit, I’m offering up my biggest embarrassments, lessons, and mistakes in video conferencing so far.

Here’s my list of my top 4 most cringe-worthy virtual meeting mishaps and how to avoid them:

1. Control Your Background

At a time when human connection is more important than ever, many of us are turning to video conferencing. But just as more and more of us are turning to services like Zoom, some of us have been sharing more than we hoped. Being 100% conscious of the possibility of not only appearing in the background of a video call as you go about normal life is enough to cause anxiety–but with spouses, pets, and kids roaming around the house, establishing some “ground rules” has become crucial. Take my advice: sit down with your family and create a code to alert other family members entering the room that a video call is taking place.

2. Reduce “Surprises”

If you don’t know your tools, how can you use them? Most video conferencing apps are pretty simple, but that doesn’t mean that a regular update can’t catch even the most seasoned pro off guard. So, even if you are an expert, take a moment to reacquaint yourself with the tools vital to each video conferencing app you are likely to use. Trust me, you don’t want to be searching for a button right when you’re supposed to be kicking off your presentation.

3. Tidy Your Digital Space

Being able to multitask while on a video call is not a luxury afforded to hosts. Speaking from experience, the importance of clearing emails, videos, photos, and files from your desktop before a meeting can’t be overstated. If you’re the host, and you know you’ll be sharing your screen, this is even more crucial. Think of how many times you’ve had a “glitch” where one or more of your open windows randomly closed–now imagine if that happened during a screen share with your client or your team. Clearing your desktop prior to your video calls can save you a load of potential embarrassment.

4. Be Yourself

Believe it or not, over-scripting, over-preparing, and over-rehearsing doesn’t always translate to over-delivering in a video presentation. Don’t forget that you’re a human being first. Get grounded, be authentic, and if glitches threaten to take over your presentation–ditch the deck! Sometimes we think that technology is a panacea. But, at the end of the day, people just want you to be real. Remember that technology isn’t there to save you, it’s there to support you.

A lot of us are on Zoom right now, and it seems like we are depending on each other more than ever. Today, I’ve offered some of my mistakes — take Elenor’s advice and learn from them. Be real, use your personality, and hopefully you won’t have a major flop like I did.


  • Right on Shari! Great list and we are all in it together. 😘

  • Elyah Alon says:

    Thanks, what you say is true in any situation, be real. Even then, sometimes it works and sometimes it won’t but you migt bas well be real through the crisis. Panic or pretending just doesnt work because most people no matter how unsophisticated you may think they are will get one thing for sure, insincere phoniness. I had a TO that was a grwat guy, but after hours of working to build an instantaneous credible relationship, he would come in and in some seconds they knew it was a BS act. They would look at me while he was talking with that “really?” look. I would watch knowing that was embarrassing for everyone. It became so painful for him and me, but out of respect for his experience and real character I could not bring myself to discuss it with him. It continued for weeks without a sale. Finally, I came in to resign, and the same day, he resigned. I knew it was because for whatever reason, personal or business, he was either burnt out or suffering (his wife had left him not too long before) I felt bad, but I will never allow myself to suffer like that again. I pleaded with management but they just kicked the can down the road, all experienced but due to a merger they were too scared to make a responsible decision. Finally, when they did, it was too late for me. I was too frustrated at that point. That was regrettable because it is a very good quality Company but in flux due to the huge merger. but it reinforced what you say about being real
    Being real is so important in sales.

  • Kathy Kelly says:

    I had a recent slip up as well. I logged into an unfamiliar webinar software, called in using my phone, muted phone, muted computer keyboard, and assumed I was muted. But this software, required you to mute from the actual webinar application. Now I mute everything, clap twice, circle to the left, circle to the left, double check all mute buttons, and hope for the best.

  • So honest. Thanks for sharing. Don’t beat yourself up. I’m sure people felt sympathy and wanted you to be successful and knowing you as I do, I’m sure you recovered and went on to do just fine. –Sharon

  • Shari Levitin says:

    Thank you, Caroline! Stay safe!

  • Shari Levitin says:

    You’re right, it’s so important. Thanks for sharing your story with me!

  • Shari Levitin says:

    It happens to the best of us, but it seems that you’re determined not to make the same mistake twice. Good for you!

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