Don't Let an Earthquake Knock Out Your Presentation

On Tuesday I was coaching a client in New Jersey. I began to feel my chair vibrate as I was filming him. He saw the expression on my face and thought it was disapproval. "Is that an earthquake?" I asked. "No, the building sways from the bridge traffic," he explained.  "Look at the chandelier," I countered. "We're having an earthquake."

We left the conference room in search of an office TV.  Sure enough, people came out of their offices to say that a 5.9 earthquake was reported in Virginia and Washington D.C.  After the shaking subsided, we continued our speech coaching session.

This was a first for me. It got me thinking about speaking disasters. I recalled the woman who felt her elastic snap on her half slip while she was on stage. The slip dropped to her ankles.  She calmly stepped out of it and continued her speech. Then there was the man who was in the middle of his speech when someone smelled smoke and the auditorium was evacuated. He herded his group to the parking lot, stood on a car and continued his speech. Now that's grace under pressure.

Most public speakers will never encounter a disaster or "Act of God." But at some point they will encounter Murphy's Law - if it can go wrong, it will. The technology won't work, you'll knock over a flip chart, your mind will go blank, a heckler will be gunning for you.

Just like governments have disaster recovery plans, public speakers need a recovery strategy. Accept and anticipate that things will go wrong. What's your biggest fear? Plan for it. If the technology goes down, have a hard copy back-up. If you forget your next point, use humor. ("I'm having a senior moment." ) The key is to acknowledge the situation, take charge, and move on.  Things happen. The audience will never fault you when you act with confidence and laugh at yourself.

Chapter 10 of Knockout Presentations includes techniques for handling difficult audiences and deadly disasters. Click here to find it on Amazon.

I'd love to hear from you. What was your worst speaking experience? What did you do about it?