7 Speaking Disasters You Will Experience and What to Do About Them
If you give speeches more than once a year, you will experience speaking catastrophes. Here are 7 that have all happened to me and my clients, and will almost certainly happen to you – and what to do about them.
1. Your Mind Goes Blank. You’re going to have a Rick Perry moment – mostly likely more than one. As our lives move faster and faster, the odds that our brains will occasionally get left behind go up. What do you do? The answer is wait. It will seem like forever to you, but it will be only a few seconds in real time. So wait it out. The words will come to you. Your brain will catch up with your mouth. Just give it time.
If the time is going by, however, and nothing is happening, then turn the problem over to the audience. “I lost my train of thought! Where was I?” will get a lifeline or two from the audience, and you will either be able to get back on track because of one of them, or the answer will come to you while you’re waiting.
2. The Technology Crashes. If you use technology, it will crash. The answer is to have a version of your presentation ready to go – always – that doesn’t depend on technology. Be prepared to tell good stories without those colorful slides. Have a Plan B.
3. The Speaker Before You Runs over Time. Just as you have a non-tech version of your talk ready to go, you should also have a short version ready to go for the inevitable time when the speaker before you gets logorrhea and won’t stop talking. That allows you to look like a hero for getting the agenda back on track. In extraordinary circumstances, you can take your time out of the next part of the agenda, but get the conference organizer both to agree to it and announce it. Otherwise it’s your fault and everyone will hate you for keeping them from their lunch.
4. You Have a Wardrobe Malfunction. If it’s a minor malfunction, acknowledge it and keep going. If it’s a major one, get help from the audience – a jacket or something to throw over the problem – before continuing.
5. You Get a Lousy Introduction. Introductions are important because they set the speaker up for success, and they do the boasting for you, so you don’t have to. If you get set up for failure by a lousy intro, then first engage the audience by telling them a crackerjack story or a fascinating bit of information that hooks them in. After the audience is engaged, then give the missing bits of introduction. This technique is the speaking equivalent of engaging the audience with a few minutes of heart-stopping action before rolling the opening credits in a movie or TV show. Most of Hollywood entertainment uses this device now so that they don’t lose their audiences. You should do the same.
6. The Audience Size Is Different Than Expected. If you get a much smaller audience than expected, then say, “I am delighted to have this chance to have a more intimate conversation with people who really care about this topic. Let’s dive in.” If you get a much larger audience than expected, and people have to stand in the back or sit on the floor, do your best to get as many people seated as possible, and then keep an eye on the folks who are standing or seated uncomfortably. When they start to suffer, call a halt to the proceedings and suggest that anyone who wants to leave should feel free to do so. Wait for the noise to subside, and continue.
7. You Get a Heckler. The human instinct with a heckler is to avoid him or her, because the whole experience is unpleasant. But fight the instinct on this one and do the counter-intuitive thing. Move toward the offending person. Most hecklers simply want to be recognized. If you stand next to the person, 99 out of 100 will stop heckling.
What disasters have you witnessed, and what did you do about them?