For Speakers: What to Do When Everything Goes Wrong

You know the feeling.

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Your mind goes blank. Your notes get out of order. The lights go down and suddenly it’s too dark to see your notes. Or, as in the case of movie producer Michael Bay at the Samsung Press Conference, the teleprompter fails.

That awful, sinking feeling…time stands still while your audience waits nervously.

AWKWARD.

It could happen to anyone.

So what can you do to make the best of a bad moment?

1. Be prepared.   Know your material inside and out, so that you can present your talk without notes or powerpoint, if needed.

“WITHOUT NOTES?!!!” you may ask. Look, it may not be exactly as you had prepared, but who cares? The audience will never know what you leave out, that is, unless you tell them, which leads to my next point.

2. Avoid calling attention to mishaps.   Unfortunately, in this situation, Michael Bay announces, “The type is all off.” The audience may never have known if he hadn’t told them.

3. Talk about what you know.   There’s a reason you were asked to speak on this subject. So be yourself and casually talk about your topic as if you were talking with a friend over coffee instead of addressing a large group.

Relay a short, humorous anecdote related to your topic or a serious story that sheds light on why you feel passionate about your topic.

4. Keep something going.   Notice how the host handled the situation by trying to keep the conversation going. He offered assistance by asking the speaker, “The Curve…how do you think it’s going to impact how viewers experience your movies?” For a producer of this caliber, it should’ve been an easy question. But Bay was caught up in the “OMG” of the moment, apparently not listening to the host. Instead of grabbing the life preserver, Bay strode off the stage, abandoning both host and audience.

5. Focus more on your audience than you and your dilemma.   Remember that it’s not about you, the speaker. It’s about the listeners and hopefully the value you bring to their lives. The more you and I remember that, the better we’ll handle unexpected moments that threaten to derail our messages.

6. Above all, never leave the stage in a huff.   As a pianist, through the years I’ve seen a few memory slips onstage, from young musicians to professionals. I’ve experienced my share, as well. Remember, no one is rooting for you more than your audience! Storming off the platform makes your audience feel bad and communicates that it was more about you than them.

Conversely, one of the most endearing moments I’ve ever witnessed onstage was when a world renowned concert pianist, despite his best efforts to recover, simply could not find his place. The audience collectively held its breath. In black tux and tails, he stopped, turned to his audience, shrugged his shoulders, gave us an “oh, well” kind of grin and announced, “You shoulda heard it at home…it was great!” The crowd went wild. He picked up where he left off and finished beautifully, to a standing ovation!

Audiences love a good sport, someone who can laugh at himself, especially when it’s evident things aren’t going as planned.

Remember these tips next time the wheels fall off onstage…and push through to deliver value to your listener.  You’re audience will appreciate it so much, you might even get a standing ovation…in spite of the bloopers!

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Connie Carey weaves music and humor to deliver fun, content-rich presentations that lift people up and bring the house down! To energize your next event or for coaching, contact her at connie@conniecarey.com or call 478.250.1177.

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