Unexpected Blessings

By Heather Baldwin

Most presenters dread little things going wrong as much as they do the big things – tripping over a word so it sounds like gobbledygook, a projector bulb burning out mid-speech, an unexpected audience member. These sorts of things happen all the time and there’s almost nothing you can do to prevent them. If there’s some good news in these little annoyances it’s that they can actually help, rather than hurt, your performance. “In presentations, the unexpected is interesting,” says Craig Harrison, a Berkeley, CA-based professional speaker and workplace communication specialist who helps clients become clear and confident communicators. “If something comes out wrong, you may berate yourself but the audience may love it.”

Consider, for example, what happened to humorist and certified speaking professional June Cline, says Harrison. At the beginning of every presentation she asks attendees to turn their pagers to vibrate mode so the devices won’t disturb her talk. At one presentation she mistakenly flubbed the line when she instead asked the audience to turn their vibrators to page. From Cline’s perspective it might have seemed a disaster; from the audience’s perspective it made her seem entirely human. “The ensuing laughter,” says Harrison, “did more to facilitate an effective presentation than any planned or contrived technique she could have employed.”

Or put yourself in the shoes of Michael Herman, another professional speaker. Asked on short notice to give a presentation on the subject of change to a society in San Diego, Herman prepared his presentation, showed up at the appointed hour and was ushered backstage. Imagine his surprise when he took the stage, faced the audience and saw a man in the front row who was completely unclothed. “It turned out the group was the California Naturalist Association and they were all buck naked,” says Harrison. “Herman got his first laugh of the day when he asked the audience if they would mind if he took off his coat.”

Even a projector bulb burning out or a laptop that won’t boot up can be a rare opportunity to connect with the audience and to demonstrate how you handle challenges with grace – as long as you have spent some time rehearsing what to do in these situations. If you can handle the unplanned speed bumps quickly and with a little humor you’ll be raised up 10 notches in the eyes of the audience. “We just assume that when things don’t go the way we expect them to go that we bombed, that our actions were humiliating and that everyone will be talking about us for the next decade,” says Harrison. “Yet in most cases we did fine. That thing we obsessed over no one noticed or they thought it was funny.”

For more information, visit www.craigspeaks.com