Let’s face it – speaking in public is a risky undertaking. Sure, we practice and we prepare; however, that doesn’t mean that despite the importance of public speaking things can’t still happen while we are giving our speech. Since we don’t run the world (yet!), as speakers we need to realize that we live in a complicated world and we need to make sure that we are prepared for things to go terribly wrong while we are giving a speech…
What To Do When Disaster Strikes
One of the first things that we need to do as public speakers is to acknowledge that bad things can happen while we are speaking. Not being willing to acknowledge this is simply us putting our heads into the sand and ignoring what will eventually become our reality. Another thing that we need to understand is that the bad things that happen will not always happen to us. We are speaking in a complex environment with a lot of different moving parts, bad things can happen to other people or other things and this will have an impact on our speech.
A great deal of what it takes to recover when a disaster occurs during your speech has to do with attitude. Specifically your attitude. We all need to realize that when something goes wrong during a speech, this is really an opportunity showing up in disguise. If you have taken the time to prepare yourself for the possibility of something going wrong during your presentation, then you’ll have a chance to turn a disaster into, gasp, an opportunity. You need to remain flexible during your presentation so that if / when something goes wrong you are able to shift gears easily and deal with it.
A great deal of what it takes to deal with a disaster when it shows up has to do with how your audience perceives that you are dealing with the unfolding events. What you are going to want them to believe is that you are both relaxed and in control of events as they unfold around you. It is important to note that internally you may not be feeling as though you have everything under control. That’s ok – it’s what you are able to project to your audience that really matters.
Tactics For Dealing With Speaking Disasters
If we can agree that disasters will occur at some point in time while you are giving a speech, the next question that we need to deal with is just exactly what you need to do when this happens. The very first thing that you’ll have to do is to maintain your grace under pressure as the world falls apart all around you. You need to realize that it’s not so much the situation, but rather how you deal with the situation that will matter in the long run. When something goes wrong, you need to move quickly to deal with it. You have to show your audience that you’ll not be letting this situation interrupt what you were trying to share with them in your speech. By doing this, you’ll convince them to pay attention to you and not the distraction.
When a disaster occurs, you can’t just ignore it. It has happened and your audience is aware of it. You have just been presented with an opportunity to connect with your audience. What you need to do is to acknowledge what has occurred and respond to it. By doing this, you’ll be letting the audience know that you understand what they are experiencing and that you are committed to making their experience as good as you can make it.
It turns out that the Boy Scouts got it right – you need to be prepared. No, we can’t be certain what might go wrong during a presentation; however, with a little bit of thought we can come up with a list of the things that might most probably go wrong. Microphones fail, speech notes get lost, introductions get misplaced, etc. Since we can anticipate that these things might happen, we need to show up prepared to deal with them before our speech even starts. Some of them you can handle all by yourself and some will require a call to the event organizer the day before you are scheduled to speak in order to make sure that backups are available.
Finally, every speaking disaster has a cause. You may have done something that caused the disaster to occur or you may not have. It really does not matter. When it happens, what you need to do is to immediately take responsibility for the disaster. Do not blame anyone else, accept the responsibility for what has happened. If you blame others, your audience will see you as being unprofessional. However, if you accept responsibility for what has happened and then lead your audience through it then this is what they’ll remember for a long time to come.
What All Of This Means For You
As much as we’d prefer to not think about it, speaking disasters can occur at any time during one of our speeches. As speakers we need to understand that this is a reality of life and we need to be prepared to deal with disasters if and when they occur. There is a very good chance that how we handle a speaking disaster will determine how our audience will remember our speech and if they get the benefits of public speaking from what we had to say.
Our attitude towards a disaster when it occurs is the key to how our audience is going to perceive it. We need to realize that disasters can occur and then come prepared to handle them when they show up. This starts with our ability to maintain grace under pressure. We need to remember that our audience is experiencing the disaster just like we are and we need to connect with them as events unfold so that they know that we’re dealing with the situation. Many disasters can be anticipated and so it’s our responsibility to come to each speech prepared for the worst. In the end, we need to take responsibility for what’s happening so that our audience will see us as acting professionally.
I wish that there was some way that we could prevent bad things from happening while we give speeches. Of course there is no way to make this happen so we have to make sure that we are prepared to deal with what may come our way. Going into your next speech with a positive attitude and showing up prepared are your two best tools for dealing with the unexpected when it happens.
Question For You: What role do you think the event organizer should play when a speaking disaster starts to happen?
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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!
What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
Have you ever been asked to give a complicated speech? These are the speeches that have a lot of different ideas that all need to be covered if you want to have any chance of allowing your audience to understand the point that you are trying to make. When you sit down to create a complicated speech, you understand the importance of public speaking but you may be lost – just exactly where should you start? It turns out that the answer is Cloud Theory.