Coping With The Unexpected

by Speaking Tips | April 26, 2004

As everyone knows, life occasionaly thows you a curve ball. This is just as true when giving a presentation as it is with any other aspect of your career, social or family life. When surprises happen, how you react to them can make all the difference to both you and your audience. Whether they are perceived by the audience as a humorous interlude or a presentation disaster is your call.

Bad things happen to the best speakers and program organizers no matter what precautions they take. You can never know for sure what will happen no matter how carefully you plan. How you react to the unexpected is what people will remember. Smile even though you may feel like strangling someone. Keep your cool and sense of humor then make the best of the situation. Acknowledge that some things are totally out of your control. The good news is that events that seem like a fiasco as they occur will later become a source of amusement. You can even add them to your repertoire of humorous stories for use in future presentations.

Speaker Related Situations

The speaker does not show or is running late.

Where possible and appropriate, ask the speaker to send a copy of their speech for distribution to the audience. Ask the speakers who are present if they can speak longer. Get permission from the audience to delay or change the order of speakers. Lead a discussion with the audience on the topic.

You are a speaker and lose your voice.

Sometimes home or doctor prescribed remedies will enable you to "croak" through. Bring water and throat lozenges with you to any speaking assignment. At a minimum, if you have well prepared handouts and other reference materials, these can be distributed to the audience.

The panelist before you uses up most of your time.

A good planner should meet with all the panelists beforehand and arrange for the moderator to signal when time is up. Be prepared to compress your remarks. Offer to meet with the audience after the program or let them know how to reach you for more information. Come prepared with a stand-alone handout.

The panelist before you begins talking about your topic.

Politely interrupt and remind the panelist that this is your territory. Unfortunately, panels are often mine fields in this regard.

At the last minute you are told that you will have 15 minutes to speak instead of 45 minutes you were told initially or vice versa.

First of all, ten to fifteen minutes is more than sufficient for you to convey your main points. You should always be ready to "shrink" your speech. You can "stretch" a speech to fill more time by having additional supporting material prepared or by holding a questions and answer session or a discussion.

You expect an audience of about 15 and bring 20 handouts. You arrive to find 50 people in the audience.

Get the program moderator to run off more copies. Alternatively, collect business cards and offer to send the audience.

A heckler in the audience starts making nasty remarks and asking antagonistic questions.

Remain calm, listen carefully and respond non-defensively. Acknowledge the person and show respect for their position. Agree with any truth in the comments. If the heckler persists, suggest that the two of you meet after the presentation for a private discussion of these issues.

A group of people in the audience start a noisy conversation while you are speaking.

Stop speaking. The silence will get their attention. Ask them if they have something they want to share with the audience at large.

Your introducer completely distorts what you are going to talk about.

Use a humorous comment to turn it into a joke and make the correction.

You loose your train of thought in mid-sentence.

Pause and hope the train comes into the station. If it doesn't, ask the audience if that has ever happened to them and continue. Usually, the thought will return later and when it does, mention it.

You allow 15 minutes at the end for questions and answers but there are no questions.

Get the session started with a question of your own "Some one asked me earlier what to do if...". Alternatively, ask a friend in the audience to share an experience you know she has had. You can also prime members of the audience beforehand to ask specific questions.

A novice speaker on your program begins but is terrified and cannot continue the presentation.

As the moderator, take over. Thank the speaker and go on with the program. After the program, counsel the novice to get some non-threatening speaking experience immediately so this incomplete experience does not become permanent speaking avoidance.

You are doing a full day seminar. Your notes and handouts are in the luggage you checked at the airport. When you arrive, it appears your luggage went to another city.

Never check the luggage with your notes or the master for your handouts in it. In addition, never let your hotel transfer your luggage from one room to a new room.

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