Welcome to the real world – things happen. Specially, things happen while you are delivering a speech. Bad things, things that can really screw up your speech. Fire alarms go off, the power fails, a projector bulb quits, your laptop decides to eat itself, etc. What’s a speaker to do?
You Need To Have A Plan
If you want to have any chance of not self-destructing when something goes wrong while you are giving a speech, then you’re going to have to have a plan. Oh, and it’s going to have to be a really good plan.
Can you say homework? In order to prepare for things to happen while you are giving a speech, you’re going to need to spend some time BEFORE the speech running through all of the things that just might happen. Once you’ve identified these things, you’ll start to feel much more relaxed about your actual speech – you should be ready for whatever happens.
Awhile ago I took advantage of an opportunity that was presented to me to become a Certified Business Continuity Professional. This means that I’m now considered to be an expert in how to plan for the worst.
The most important thing that I got out of all of my training was actually the simplest: you need to identify everything that could possibly happen to you, but then you only have to plan for the most probable items on that list. Possible fire drill – plan for it. Meteor striking the earth during your speech – put it on the list but don’t worry about planning for it (too low of a probability).
It’s All About The Escape Hatch
Although you might want to have a hole that you could just go and jump in if something happens to disrupt your presentation, you don’t actually have that option. In show business they have a saying that says “The show must go on” and the same can be said for your presentation. What you do need to have is an escape hatch that leads from the presentation that you were giving to the one that you will be giving after the event happens.
This means that before your speech, you need to have taken the time and thought through all of the possible things that could go wrong. Just thinking about them is not enough, you also need to decide what you would do if they happened. I’d take the time to write down both the possible event as well as the action that you’d take if it happened. Just the action of writing can help to firm things up in your mind.
A case in point: if your projector bulb failed, how would you handle that? One possibility would be to distribute a handout that you had created just for this situation. Another way to handle it would be to bring out the flip chart and to start drawing on it. Doesn’t matter what you do, just have a plan in case something happens.
You Are The Rock, Act That Way
Any speech is actually a performance. When something goes wrong, your performance doesn’t end. How you react to an unplanned event will go a long way in determining how you audience reacts to the event.
What all this means is simply that you need to not react when something goes wrong. Don’t show any surprise, deal with it, and keep on moving forward with your speech.
The hardest part of all of this is remembering that it’s not just the words that you are saying that may betray surprise, but also your body language. This is once again where having thought though through all of the possibilities will help you deal with them as expected occurrences.
Practice, Practice, Practice
In order to bring all of this planning into operation, you need to have practiced what you would do if something happened. I’m not suggesting that you pull a fire alarm or sabotage your projector, my suggestion is much simpler.
After you’ve gotten done with your planning, sit down and mentally picture yourself delivering your speech. Now imagine something going wrong. What do you do? “See” yourself reacting calmly and with a great deal of assurance to whatever the event is.
By mentally running through the event and your reaction to it, you’ll build up a “learned response” . This means that if such an event does happen to you, you’ll instinctively know how to react. Both your words and your body language will be telling your audience that you have the situation well under control.
What All Of This Means For You
Life does sometimes give us lemons. Unfortunately sometimes these lemons arrive right in the middle of one of our presentations. How we deal with life’s unplanned events can determine the success or failure of that speech.
We must always pre-plan for events that are out of our control happening during a speech. This planning will help us to have a back-up plan in place and will allow us to convey a sense of control to our audience.
Yes, this will require more work on your part in order to get ready to give a speech. However, taking the time to plan for the worst to happen can help you deliver a successful speech under the worst of circumstances.
– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills
Question For You: What do you think the #1 thing that can derail a speech is and how would you plan to deal with it?
What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
In the world of big game hunting, the goal always seems to be to try to hunt something bigger and more deadly than you did last time. The world of public speaking isn’t all that much different except that we go looking for the biggest game of all: an audience’s attention.