When the Previous Speaker Steps on your Lines

hand-977641__180It's a public speaker's worst nightmare. You spent hours crafting and preparing your message. You targeted the message to the right audience. You're  waiting in the wings as you listen to the speaker right before you. And then it happens. The presenter says in the opening what you were going to say. And that's followed up with a similar statistic that you planned to cite. What's a presenter supposed to do?

This happened to a friend of mine a few years ago. He was speaking at a conference. His presentation was scheduled for day two. He arrived the day before and decided in sit in and listen to some of the presentations. It was a good thing he did! To his amazement, one of the early speakers started speaking about the same sports hero that my friend planned to talk about. And the quotes and statistics were similar. He  panicked as he felt all his hard work going down the drain.

Fortunately,time was on his side. He left the meeting, rushed back to his room and started rewriting his speech. The presentation was a success but not without a lot of angst. He learned two important lessons:

Arrive at the conference early and listen to the other speeches. Tell your own stories. Nobody can duplicate what is unique to you.

A similar experience happened to me. I was invited along with two other women to give a 5 minute presentation for a fundraiser. The first woman was the founder of the charity and her talk clearly didn't compete with mine. The second speaker was from the medical field so I didn't expect there would be any overlap. Was I wrong!

As she started talking about her topic, she mentioned the same fact I had planned to cite. And then she followed up with a statistic that was similar to mine. I kept a poker face but inside my jaw was dropping. My mind was racing. It was too late to change my opening so instead of resisting it I included it. I stepped up to the platform and led with my original opening line. Then I said, "As the first speaker said, it's important to ...." It worked. An audience needs to hear a message more than once so I reiterated the value of what she said as I transitioned to my prepared tips.

My learning? If two speakers are presenting on the same topic but from different disciplines, it's important to talk to each other. If a scientist and artist are talking about communication, their perspectives may be different. But it doesn't mean they won't come up with a similar quote, anecdote, or metaphor.

At some point, a presenter may unintentionally step on your lines It could be a co-worker at a meeting, or during a major presentation. To prevent someone from stepping on your lines,

  • Arrive early to the meeting and listen to the presenters on the agenda.
  • Tell your own stories.Nobody has your personal experience.
  • When speaking on the same topic, call the other presenters to ensure there is little overlap.
  • If somebody does use your line, either delete it or include it by crediting the other speaker.

Use these tips and you'll be able to step up instead of being stepped on.