When Disaster Strikes: 3 Ways To Avoid A Crash While Speaking

by drjim on July 27, 2010

Being Prepared Can Help Prevent A Speaking Accident

Being Prepared Can Help Prevent A Speaking Accident

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?

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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.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Makana Risser Chai July 27, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Great tips! Having gone through a few fire alarms, one thing I learned is to take on the role of safety officer. Direct people where to go and what to do (e.g. grab their stuff – if it’s a real fire, they will want to have all their belongings.)

I have conducted trainings outside and in the lobby when the power went out.

The only thing I wasn’t able to recover from was when I tripped on a cord and knocked myself out! When I came to a minute later I said, “Take a 5 minute break and we’ll start up again.” Unfortunately, I was overruled by the EMT who made me go to the hospital.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson July 30, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Makana: ouch! You are right on the money there — the speaker is in charge. If you don’t tell everyone to get up and get out, they’ll sit there listening to you until the room burns down around them…!

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Fred E. Miller July 28, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Thanks for the formula for my Speaker’s FIrst Aid Kit, Jim.

We all have spare tires in our vehicles, but hardly ever use them. However, I feel much safer knowing if I ran over a nail – I am prepared!

Nice Post!

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson July 30, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Fred: glad to be of help. Remember, just like with the spare tire that we all have in the trunk, you’ve got to take these suggestions out of storage and give them a work out every so often just to make sure that they work for you…!

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Theresa Walsh July 30, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I am always worried that the unpredictable will happen during my presentation. And you know what, most of the time it does!

My biggest problem was always how to prepare for that so thank you very much for your tips Dr. Jim, I am really grateful for them.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson July 30, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Theresa: I’m happy to help. Remember that the audience really wants you to be successful so they’re willing to put up with a lot just to hear your speech…!

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