Do you worry that things might go wrong when you to go out and do a public speaking engagement? Does that worry or fear stop you from even saying yes to speaking?
Guess What? Things DO go wrong and this is GOOD NEWS because by knowing and accepting that, you can now prepare how to handle it.
The thing going wrong is not the problem. Your response in the moment might be. By being prepared you can reduce the chance that anything goes awry; and you can have a back-up plan or at the very least, go with the flow.
Here are some incidents that I have experienced when speaking and what to do about it. I’m sure there are more ways that things can go wrong, so once you have read through mine, please add your own so that more people can see that mistakes, faux pas, blunders, trips and more are NOT a big deal.
1. People not showing up
I had been invited by a friend to present in Ireland. I was in London for another event, and the timing worked out perfectly for me to hop across to Cork, Ireland to run a 3 hour workshop for about 20 people. My friend was horrified when only 4 people turned up for the event. I could see her stressing at the door and I told her to relax and not worry. There was little we could do about it at that point.
What did I do? I gave those 4 people my 100% energy to deliver the presentation I had planned. I was there completely for them and the feedback was great.
How to Respond: Focus on the people you have at your presentation, not on the ones that didn’t make the effort.
How to Avoid it Happening Again: Get people to commit by pre-selling tickets. This will give you a more accurate number of attendees and help you to do the work BEFORE the event to fill your room. If you want your event to be free, a popular strategy is to charge a nominal fee up-front and then let people know they will get their money back on attending the event. This lets you know how serious people are about attending.
Note on this. Do not offer refunds for non-attendance. You end up with the same problem as if you didn’t ask for payment up-front. You can give them credit for your next workshop since they showed interest in your work. You might feel compelled to say yes, especially if it’s just one person, but just think about the can of worms you might open for yourself and future events. Establish a policy so you can fill your workshops with greater ease.
2. Forgetting to bring the PowerPoint presentation
This happened to me in my earlier days of presenting, when I was presenting a workshop designed by others within the company I was working for in Corporate Health. I rocked up to the company I was presenting to and once everyone was in the room, I realized that I had forgot the CD-Rom with the presentation. Yikes. I was embarrassed to have been so ill-prepared AND that I didn’t know the material well-enough to go without it. I had to reschedule it.
How to Respond: Ideally you know your material well-enough that you could present it even without your visual aids. Decide in the moment whether it’s possible to give VALUE to your attendees without your PowerPoint or reschedule it. Something hasn’t gone as planned so find a solution.
How to Avoid it Happening Again: Create a checklist of items so that you know that you have everything you need to be a success with your presentation. I usually have my PowerPoint presentation on my own computer and on a memory stick so I have a backup. Don’t leave home without checking everything off – Visual aids, pens, books, computer, notes, prizes, etc.
In addition to this, see how you can be less PowerPoint dependent just in case there is a problem with the projector or other technology. I personally like using a flip chart so that I can explain things and write keywords for the audience as I go along.
3. Wardrobe challenge
There are two incidences that I can remember being challenged by my wardrobe on stage. One time I wore a red top made of sheer material. I was naive and didn’t realize how see-through it would be under the lights on stage. I was only on stage for brief periods to introduce the main speaker and to play some interactive games with the audience. No wonder I got such a positive reaction, ha ha. I got feedback from my colleagues that perhaps I should cover myself up a little more and fortunately I did have a jacket to put on.
The second incident was when I was giving instructions to volunteer crew members at another big event. There were about 40 crew members and I was at the front just at floor level. I was wearing a crocheted poncho over a black knit top and as I was speaking I felt my bra come undone at the front hook. It was a bit finicky like that. Fortunately I’m not the bustiest gal out there and I was able to keep things under control by simply locking my elbows at my side and only using my hands to gesture. (Not my preferred method of non-verbal communication.) I’m sure I looked like a Thunderbird puppet speaking but at least I got through my piece and was able to go off and fix the problem without anyone knowing.
How to Respond: Laugh. Shit happens. 🙂
How to Avoid it Happening Again: Check your wardrobe. Is it presentable and reliable? Are you shoes solid without chance of a heel coming off? Will your skirt or dress be okay on a raised stage without giving an eyeful to the front row? Know how close you can stand toward the edge of the stage. Be comfortable so that you can focus on your message and on your audience, not how you look.
4. Feeling sick
Was it something I ate or am I pregnant? That was the thought going through my mind as I prepared to teach a 5-day class in London a few years ago. 15 minutes to show-time and I was throwing up. Once I got that out of my system, I was okay…… for a while. Of course the show must go on and I somehow managed to put on a brave face and teach this class without anyone in the audience suspecting anything was wrong.
That’s what happens when you are able to master your emotional state and choose how to be on the stage. You don’t let circumstances control you; YOU control you.
The nausea and ill-feeling did stick around for most of the week and the worst and most memorable moment was towards the end of one session. I had just asked the group to stand up to do an induction/visualization with them. I had even asked the lights to be turned off and then I knew – I couldn’t do it. I had that overwhelming nausea rising up. I quickly told the group that we would do the induction after the break instead, and I sent them to lunch, and quickly ran off the stage to a side-entrance where I could quietly (?) heave.
How to Respond: If the show must go on, learn to grin and bear it. Manage your state so that you can still give value to your audience. I did eventually share the fact with my audience around Day 3 or 4, as I was about to teach them how to manage their own emotional state. Avoid telling your audience up-front as it means you are focusing on feeling sick and it could serve as an excuse for giving less than what they came for. It can detract from the impact you can have on your audience.
Of course, there are times when you have to pull the plug and say no. Your health is important and you don’t want to put yourself in danger by still performing.
How to Avoid it Happening Again: Be careful of your diet and health, especially if you are traveling and presenting. Know what foods will help you perform at your best and drink plenty of water.
5. Technical Issues for Virtual Presentation
This last one happened just last week, though not for the first time. I hear of plenty of presenters with online webinars, teleseminars and google-hangouts having technical difficulties. I was scheduled to do a live event with makeitsimple.tv last Thursday and I started looking to log-on with my hosts about 30 minutes early. I figure that you can never be too prepared!
Unfortunately, the hosts Andrew and Heather were having their own tech challenges and I got the link to join with about 3 minutes to spare. I quickly scrambled to get on the hangout platform in time and I then had new hurdles to jump. A plug-in issue with my browser. Finally at about 5 minutes past the hour we were all on …… only to find out my internet was playing up. My video and voice kept freezing. This was NOT going to happen today.
We have rescheduled a recorded replay and will have that for you by the end of the week. I’ve updated my modem and am ready!
How to Respond: Laugh and find a solution – usually that means doing an encore or replay. This can work to your advantage as it gives you bonus time to promote your presentation.
How to Avoid it Happening Again: Test, Test and ReTest. Check out all the controls of your chosen platform so that you know how to use everything. If you are new to using online technology then get an assistant or educate yourself.
The main thing here is to recognize that things can go wrong and you just have to flow with it.
If you resist it, and tell yourself “It shouldn’t be like this,” then you are only causing more stress and problems. Think like an Aussie and instead tell yourself “No Worries!” and get on with it. If you can have a laugh or chuckle about it, all the better.
…And no, I was not pregnant though I was compelled to take a test.
What have you had to deal with in your speaking or event experience? I look forward to hearing your stories!