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How to fix a speech that goes wrong

What should a body to do if stuff happens to you while you’re trying to give a talk that could easily put you off your game?

You know those Murphy’s Law occasions where all of a sudden your technology won’t work, you’ve just noticed that you loaded the wrong slides, an alarm or some other commotion goes off near your room, you get distracted by something and now you have zero clue what you’ll say next?

Yikes. And while I can tell you that these things are far more common place than many speakers realise, that’d be cold comfort to you if you’re the one holding a microphone on stage when one of these ill winds comes calling.

Wouldn’t it be more helpful to know what to do when one of these curve balls comes your way?

#1 Dealing with the unexpected or technical snafus

Check out the following examples of speakers and how they coped with trying situations.

Exhibit A: President Obama is surprised by a far from sticky seal

Here’s what I’d like you to notice: First, he doesn’t get flustered in the moment (32 seconds into his talk). Second, he pauses to figure out what the noise was. Third, he made virtue of his flying seal by making light of it and even integrated it into his speech!

And isn’t it interesting how his audience lapped it up?

And therein lie a few lessons for all speakers when stuff happens: Don’t panic. Acknowledge the distraction. Leverage it with humour (eg You could say something like: “Hmm, I wonder what button I pushed to do that?”). Then, move on. 

You’ll likely get an equally super audience reaction.

Exhibit B: Comedic speaker Tim Washer’s Technology Won’t Cooperate

Check out the quick thinking reactions by keynote speaker and comedian Tim Washer when dealing with screen blackouts and videos that wouldn’t play at 30 seconds and then 55 seconds into this next clip :

And my favourite bit here is how Tim says “So, I could act it out!”

As you can see and hear, self deprecation is an amazing defense – right?

And speaking of defense, here’s something else you can do to avoid snafus in the first place when it comes to any PowerPoint/other slide deck files you plan on using. Always have back up plans:

  • Send yourself a back up copy of your slides on email
  • Save another version of your deck on a memory stick
  • Bring your own laptop to events (in case the even organiser’s kit isn’t working)
  • Print out a copy of your slides, if technology fail you completely, and
  • Arrive long before you’re due to speak to make sure everything is working

#2 What should you do if you forget what comes next?

Oh, oh. This can happen so easily and it’s guaranteed to give you a sense of humour failure – which is why I include the cure to this little stinker in just about every executive speaking skills training program I run!

And while I won’t get into the menu of techniques/tools I recommend to clients to avoid fears of going blank when on on stage, here are a few things worth remembering.

If you lose your place, think like a news anchor that’s in the middle of a bulletin when a technical issue means a clip or interview with a reporter can’t be introduced. Faced with this snag, most newscasters will acknowledge the problem, promise to come back to the issue later (if this is possible), pause for a a few seconds and then move on to what’s next.

As a speaker you can adopt a similar tack. Acknowledge that there was something else you wanted to say on whatever the topic was, suggest you’ll come back to it if it comes back to you, pause to find your place in your notes, look up at your audience and move on to what you wanted to say next.

Audiences are far more forgiving than many speakers think. Few people expect perfection and you may even find many people won’t even notice what you perceived to be a hole in your presentation.

Like to up your speaking impact?

To learn how I could help you inspire others with your speaking, email me at eobrien@thersc.ie .