While traditionally, speaking has been more or less a monologue, delivering a seminar requires a different set of skills. One of those skills is facilitation. The public speaker needs to engage and elicit information from the audience and help them make connections to their work environments through discussion.
Today marks the eleven year anniversary of 911. I remember it like yesterday. It was the nicest day of the year. There was a noticeable stillness in the air. I headed off to JP Morgan where I was speaking to a group of relationship managers in the private bank. The seminar was on sales presentation skills. We began at 8:00 a.m. A participant arrived late and told me the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. Thinking this was a fabrication for his lateness I was a bit skeptical. When someone else confirmed his story, I called a break and we all marched out to the lobby in search of a television. For the next few minutes we sat in stunned silence as we watched the towers collapse. I asked the manager if she wanted me to continue the seminar and she said no. We cancelled the seminar and I left to find a hotel since certain areas were on lock down and traveling home was probably not an option.
While this is an extreme case of speaking disasters, public speakers need to be prepared for the worst. The best advice for any public speaker is to have a recovery strategy. You never know when your presentation will be impacted by an unforeseen event.
Take the case of the man who was giving a motivational keynote speech to a large audience and suddenly there was a fire in the hotel. The hotel was evacuated and all the audience members were herded into the parking lot. Did that end the speech? Oh, no. This savvy professional speaker jumped on top of a car and continued to give his keynote speech in the parking lot. He believed the show must go on.
I remember when I attended a National Speakers Association conference. There were 2000 people listening to the keynote speaker on the big stage. All of a sudden, an audience member had an epileptic seizure. The audience was now riveted on the disturbance and she realized she had lost their attention. There is always that moment when you question what is the right protocol. She called out and said "Should I stop?" She paused for a bit and when they removed the man she continued her speech. Again, these are extreme examples but they do happen to public speakers.
It's more likely that when you give a presentation you'll encounter less dramatic mishaps. The most common speaking disaster is when technology fails. The recovery strategy for technology failure is to have a back-up. Put your PowerPoint presentation on a flash drive, send an email copy to the meeting planner, and print a hard copy.
What if it's an embarrassing speaking situation? One woman was giving a speech on a stage behind a podium. The elastic band on her half slip (undergarment) snapped and her slip fell to her ankles. She calmly stepped out of the slip and continued her presentation. This would have been a good moment for some humor.
Which brings us to the best public speaking recovery strategy. Take a line from Rod Stewart's song "Her ad lib lines were well rehearsed." In other words, plan some extender lines. Let's say the lights go off. You could say, "Next time I'll pay my electric bill." But what if they continue to flicker and go off again? If you have a few lines you can extend the humor by adding a new "ad lib." One professional speaker had a technology meltdown. He had five extender lines which he used. He later confessed that he was glad that the problem was fixed after the fifth attempt because he had no more humorous one-liners.
Anticipate what could go wrong in your every day presentations. I've spilled coffee, knocked over a flip chart, and hit the wrong button on the video playback. I even lost my train-of-thought when presenting on a panel. I knew what I wanted to say but couldn't retrieve the word. My brain froze. So I simply asked the audience, "What is the word I'm looking for?" They gave it to me and that was the end of it. When it comes to public speaking or any kind of presentation, the audience will not fault you for flubbing if you recover with grace.
Back in 2001 when my seminar was cancelled, we did recover with grace. We rescheduled the presentation a month later and the attendees performed well. They recovered emotionally and that was the best recovery strategy.
What were your worst public speaking disasters and how did you recover? What advice do you have for other public speakers and presenters?
Yesterday I presented at the NYXPO, one of the largest small business tradeshows in New York. It was my third time speaking and my second time having a tradeshow booth. My presentation, Speak Powerfully, Sell More gave small business owners tips on how to leverage speaking as a marketing strategy. I shared with the them that networking and speaking showcases were my two strongest marketing approaches.
At the booth, many lessons were learned from last year. My goal was to sell my book, Knockout Presentations, and to obtain leads for my Sendout Cards business. Here's what we now know works when presenting at tradeshows:
1. Be fully staffed. We had five people available although not at the same time. This allowed us to handle traffic and provide breaks for staffers.
2. Provide training. Exhibitors need to know how to dress and must be well versed about the product or subject.
3. Recognize that a tradeshow exhibit is a presentation. Do not chew gum or eat in the booth. Stand and greet people with a smile. Listen more than you speak and ask questions.
4. Learn traffic patterns. We realized that the morning is slow. Traffic picked up right after I spoke and after lunch was the busiest time.
5. Do not pack up early. We signed up a couple of new people 10 minutes before closing time.
6. Provide a demo. The three minute video was the best sales tool. Most people are visual and professional videos keep the message focused and consistent.
7. Bring a wifi card or a phone that uses tether technology. The Javits Center is New York City is highly unionized and you must pay for everything including electricity.
8. Display samples. People were attracted to the cards and could feel the quality and see the variety. Selling my book rather than using an order form allowed buyers to browse through the chapters. The touch and feel of a product is important.
9. Bring clipboards, envelopes for business cards, plenty of pens and anything else to help you organize your leads and materials.
10. Sell beyond the booth. Invite people to visit you after your seminar. Promote the booth to your list before the event. Hand out flyers to other exhibitors. Follow up with leads in 24 hours.
11. Keep the booth simple, uncluttered and attractive. The floor length banner was easy to assemble and drew people into the booth. Put baggage under the table, behind the curtain.
12. Have a time limited offer. When people signed up at the booth they received a free gift. We learned from last year that most visitors are looking for freebies. Last year we offered a gift if they watched the demo. When we followed up they were no where to be found. This was our most important lesson. You must qualify your leads.
13. Wear comfortable shoes. There aren't a lot of chairs on the convention floor and you'll be busy working the crowd.
(I'm conducting business with my feet up today!)