Watch Michael Bay's Onstage Meltdown, How He Could Have Prevented It

The film director lost it live at CES 2014 during a Samsung presentation, reminding us all how not to handle a freeze-up.

Whenever anyone asks me why I have anxiety about public speaking, they ultimately pose this question: "What's the worst that could happen?" Now, I finally have something to point them to. On Monday, film director Michael Bay imploded on stage at CES 2014 while introducing Samsung's 105" curved UHD TV set, fleeing the stage in embarrassment. He lived my public speaking nightmare, and probably yours, too.

Reminder: Everyone gets stressed about public speaking. But there are ways to prepare yourself to reduce the risk of freezing up.

Bay's first mistake was that he didn't seem to have any of his lines memorized, relying instead on a teleprompter, so when the teleprompter failed, he wasn't prepared to bounce back. Only later did he take to his blog to explain, " 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." Communication and behavior expert Deborah Grayson Riegel recommends memorizing at least the first three lines of your speech to "shift your brain out of panic mode and into memory-retrieval mode."

But there's a difference between knowing your lines and sounding like a recording. The moment Bay opened his mouth, he went into robot mode. Even when Joe Stinziano, Samsung's executive vice president, tried to pull him back on track ("The curve? How do you think it's going to impact how viewers experience your movies?"), Bay was so focused on his script that he struggled get ahold of himself. Rather than memorizing an entire speech, the best way to prepare for these situations is to focus on the idea you want to get across. Fast Company's own productivity guru Drake Baer says you should "know the whole of the ideas you're trying to communicate—then talk about them like a human." If a teleprompter fails or you can't remember your lines, take a breath and turn your focus back to the point you want to make, then just have a conversation.

But hey, if you do freeze up or make a mistake, remind yourself that everyone has been there, and it's not the end of the world. As Flip the Script author Bill Wakermann says, "you have to have faith in yourself that others will love you and appreciate you even if you make a mistake now and again." Learn from your mistakes, and be more prepared next time.

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  • Let’s say he was prepared. He had an outline practiced but his panic was so intense when he lost the teleprompter that he couldn’t draw from the reserve power.

    What did he do wrong?

    He didn’t allow himself to be human. He tried for a moment, “I’ll just wing it.” But he couldn’t fully accept the discomfort of being vulnerable. He had this “Michael Bay brand” to protect. He’s supposed to be a cool, badass creative who is always saying and doing sweet things. That brand was in jeopardy when his teleprompter went down and his script was lost.


  • The trick to 'saving the day' is to do everything you can not to lose it in the first place. There are many tricks to recovering from 'brain freeze' on stage, but every last one of them requires planning, effort and practice before the event. If your only planning is 'I'll just read the teleprompter' you're in a bad position before you even get started. Further, in my experience, if you're an 'occasional' public speaker the odds of freezing go up...way up. One really simple (but not always easy) tip is to as many different situations as possible. This builds up your experience and confidence, minimizing your risk of brain freeze in the first place and letting you practice recovering in less stressful situations. The fastest, easiest way I've found to get that practice is through a local Toastmasters club, but however you do it, put yourself in the uncomfortable place of public speaking as often as you can. Practice and preparation really is the way to go.

  • He should not have written nothing...that is the mistake a lot of corporations make. They forget about spontaneity. I blame the publicists and agencies behind Samsung for this failliure. They all put so much presure on these guys...for public Let the guy just come up with his own he is being asked a question...and it would have been just fine.

    Emanuel Darlea

  • Great article, but in my opinion, he could have prevented it by manning up and not acting like a spoiled kid! Why is no one taking him to task for that? Life is not a commercial or a movie where you can do another take. He should have written what he was going to talk about himself instead of having it written for him; that way he wouldn't need a teleprompter. But I forgot that we live in the age of relying on the teleprompter. All of the coverage of this I have seen is about technical difficulties or how he could have prevented it. I understand that. But bottom line is, he wimped out and walked off stage. Credibility: shot.

  • Good pointers... I like the one about at least having internalized the core point of the presentation. If you then forget your prepared lines, you can fall back to the core message. I also like Luciano's point about laughter... to loosen up the situation. All in all though, as Benjamin Franklin put it: "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."

  • Luciano Elias

    It's a tough situation. My escape is to always poke fun at myself. The worst that can happen is that I'll end up laughing by myself, and I'm cool with that. :)