If you’re a speaker or are called upon to speak at or for your company or organization, you know the stage is the home for Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will. While I am an extremely positive person, I’ve found it very beneficial to be prepared in case anything goes wrong before or during my presentation.
Let me stress: I don’t expect bad things to happen, I’m just prepared if they do. And if you do any public speaking yourself, you’d do well to have a fall back plan or a backup plan…just in case.
Here are a few tips to help you be prepared:
Have backups slides: I don’t rely on a projector, but I’ve seen many presentations and speeches wrecked because of A/V problems. I’ve watched great, experienced public speakers sweat bullets waiting for an intern to try and get their laptop to connect to the screen. Have backup slides for your audience if this happens. It’s a small expense to avoid the worry if nothing else.
Print all materials: Anything you’ve sent to the venue beforehand—whether it’s your introduction, bio or other pertinent information seems to be missing a lot of times. Make a file and include a printed copy of everything you send; don’t depend on your client to have it. Be professional enough to have those bases covered and not have to scratch your intro out on a napkin five minutes before your speech.
Bring your own watch: I use my cell phone (muted) on the podium or somewhere I can keep up with my time. Never assume there will be a clock in the back of the room. If you do assume, one of two things will happen: there won’t be or it will be so far away you can’t read it. Use the clock function on your phone and turn off the sleep mode so it stays on throughout your speech.
Have a short story to fill: Depending on how long you’ve been doing public speaking, you’ve probably found a speech which took 30 minutes during practice somehow takes 15 when you give it. Young speakers tend to rush when they get nervous and/or leave out parts of the talk they wanted to include. If you find yourself in this situation have a short fill story in your memory bank you can pull up and use. The story needs to be generic enough to fit almost any situation—a motivational story, a bit of inspiration or a brief anecdote about your business or industry. Something. Anything to move right into the gap. The key is to use it before your close. Don’t end on this story—end with what you planned to close with, just let this get you there.
Have a long story to fill: Yes, there will be times when you look to the back of the room and your client or the organizer is giving you the old stretch sign—fill some time. Or, perhaps another speaker didn’t show and you don’t know this until you’re about to hit the stage. As a professional you should be able to fill the time without the audience knowing anything is amiss. Just as before, have a go-to story or another piece of the puzzle you can add to fill the time.
Once you’ve gathered enough material, you will have plenty of these stories, but until then take time to write them out and file them away.
Remember, you’re a professional. The audience didn’t come to see slides or a fancy powerpoint or the latest funny cat video on YouTube you were going to use to break the ice, they came to hear you!
It’s called public speaking for a reason. The more flexible you can be the more successful you’ll be and your audience will never know the difference—but your client certainly will!