What to Do When Things Go Wrong During Your Speech

by Arvee Robinson

Murphy's Law states that whatever can go wrong, does. This is true even when you speak. The good news is that knowing what might go wrong ahead of time will help you to know how to handle it.

If Murphy does shows up on the scene, never let your audience see you sweat! Never apologize when something goes wrong, and never make excuses.

On a recent episode of America's Got Talent, one of the acts were two young children about ten or eleven years old. They started dancing on stairs, and guess what? The little girl fell. Seconds later she got up and performed as if nothing happened. At the end of their performance the judges asked her, "Are you okay, honey? Are you hurt?" At that moment she started to cry. Until then she was a trooper and never let anyone see her sweat.

This is a perfect example of what to do as a performer and speaker. Here are five possibilities of things that can go wrong, and how to handle them with grace and ease.

#1 – Electronic gadgets in the audience.

Today, people often bring their laptops or other electronic devices to a presentation or workshop. These devices can disconnect your listener from you and you're your talk. The best solution is to discourage the use of computers, laptops, netbooks, iPads and iPhones during your presentation.

Train your audience to turn off their cell phones by asking them to do so at the beginning of your talk. Take out your own cell phone and demonstrate what you want them to do while asking them to turn it off. Then thank them for doing so.

When people bring their laptops to use—and I've seen it over and over—they are not thinking about the event or the people in it; they are thinking about themselves. I've seen people plug the laptops in an outlet in the center aisle where people walk. As the speaker, you're in control of the room and you've got to pay attention to what your audience it doing so you can correct it if necessary.

I discourage people to using their computers during my talks. It is a known fact that your audience will retain more information if they write it down than if they type it

#2 - Your laptop explodes.

You're ready to start your presentation and your computer doesn't turn on! Always make sure you have a backup ready, especially if it's your event. I have a regular laptop and a netbook. I bring them both. I also bring a flash drive because someone in the audience will have a laptop I can use.

Have a backup plan ready just in case something happens to your own equipment. That goes for the projector, as well. Make sure you have an extra bulb because that's what usually burns out. They're expensive, but it's a good idea to have a spare.

Here's a backup strategy: Bring two computers, have an outline of what you're going say in case of ultimate equipment failure. This will ensure that you're not dependent on your PowerPoint and the speech will go on!

For good measure, you may even want your assistant to be in your office when your speech starts in case they need to email something to you.

#3 - Forgot your flash drive?

What do you do if you left your presentation behind? Panic? No. The first rule as a speaker is to not be dependent on your PowerPoint. If you can't go on without it, then you're too dependent on it. If this happens, forget the PowerPoint and stand up and do your presentation like a professional.

During a multi-speaker event I hosted two years ago, once again a speaker's PowerPoint was not compatible with our equipment. The speaker insisted on using the PowerPoint and would not go on stage without it. It took over 45 minutes to get it going. When the speaker finally went on stage she was flustered and it showed. The end result – no sales. Always remember, YOU are the presentation, not your PowerPoint.

#4 - The microphone breaks.

This has happened to me a couple times! Sometimes the handheld microphone breaks or the batteries go out. Both can be devastating. Once, I was presenting on a big stage, and all of a sudden the lavaliere went out. The sound guy gave me a handheld microphone. Since I like to use my hands when I talk this wasn't the most comfortable solution. I would have rather kept my lapel microphone.

If you find yourself speaking on a multi-speaker stage, be sure ask the sound guy to check the batteries before you talk.

It is imperative to have a good overall sound system. At my very first Persuasive Speaking Mastery event I had over 140 people in the audience. I brought my own lavaliere system because I thought I would pull it into the hotel equipment and I could save some money. Wrong. The hotel equipment didn't work and everyone had trouble hearing me. Today, I avoid hassles by hiring a professional audio/visual guy who brings his own quality equipment and controls the sound levels. It is money well-spent.

If you're speaking to small groups of 20, 25, or even 50, you probably don't need a professional sound system. However, if you have a soft voice, you may. Either hire a professional or invest in the equipment yourself.

#5 - Run out of time.

It's important to stay on time. The longer you go over your time, the less likely it is you'll be invited back because it throws off an entire meeting. It also shows disrespect to the audience and the host.

Let's say you have a new presentation and you don't know how long it will take, or you have three parts but only have time to present one part. You can ask the audience, "I have three more points and it looks like I won't have time to get to them. Which one of these do you want me to cover [list them]?" Let your audience tell you want they want. Be creative and say you'll email them the other two topics.

If you see the clock ticking, don't speed up your dialogue and rush through everything! Don't talk so fast that your audience doesn't understand you or drop the last part of your speech. That's the biggest mistake people make—they speed up and leave out their close. That's not going to help you or your audience. It's better to eliminate some of the points then it is to drop the close. Remember, the close is how you make sales and help others to create breakthroughs in their lives and in their businesses.

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