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What to Do When Things Go Wrong During Your Speech

Murphyís Law statesówhatever can go wrong, does. This is true even when you speak. The good news is, knowing what might go wrong ahead of time will help you to know how to handle it.

If Murphy does show 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 Americaís Got Talent one of the acts was a team of 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, ďAre you okay, honey? ďAre you hurt?Ē At that moment she started to cry. Until then she was a trooper and never let anyone see her sweat.

Thatís a perfect example of what you want to do as a performer and speaker. Unexpected things are going to happen that are out of your control. What are they? Here are five possibilities and how to handle them with grace and ease.

#1 Ė Electronic gadgets in the audience.†

Today, people will often bring their laptops or other electronic devices to a presentation or workshop. The problem is, these devices disconnect your listener from you and youíre 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 useóand Iíve seen it over and overóthey are not thinking about the event or the people in it; they are thinking about themselves. Iíve seen people plug the laptops in an outlet in the center aisle where people walk. As the speaker, youíre in control of the room and youíve got to pay attention to what your audience it doing so you can correct it if necessary.

I discourage people from 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. So do your audience a favor and ask them to put away all electronic devices.

#2 - Your laptop explodes.

Youíre ready to start your presentation and you turn on your computer Ė it doesnít turn on! Always make sure you have a backup ready, especially if itís 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 thatís what usually burns out. Theyíre very expensive, but itís a good idea to have a spare.

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

At my last Persuasive Speaking Mastery even, one of my guest speakers brought her presentation on her laptop. She didnít bring a backup on a flash drive. Her computer was not compatible with my projector. After 30 minutes of trying to get it to work, the guest speaker got her office to email the presentation to us. Now, what would have happened if no one was available at her office? It could have been a disaster.

If youíre going to bring your own computer to a presentation, make sure you have a backup plan. Part of that backup plan is your PowerPoint presentation on a flash drive. And for good measure, you may even want your assistant at your office when your speech starts.

#3 - Forgot your flash drive?

What do you do if you left your presentation behind? Panic? No. The first rule as a speaker, donít be dependent on your PowerPoint. If you canít go on without it, then youíre 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 speakerís 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 Ė 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 in the lavaliere. 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 wasnít 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 didnít work right and everyone had trouble hearing me. Today, I avoid all the 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 youíre speaking to small groups of 20, 25, or even 50, you probably donít 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.

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

Letís say you have a new presentation and you donít know how long it will take or you have three parts but only have time to present one part. You can ask the audience, ďI have three more points and it looks like I wonít have time to get to them. Which one of these do you want me to cover [list them]?Ē Let your audience tell you want they want. Be creative and say youíll email them the other two topics.

If you see the clock ticking, donít speed up your dialogue and rush through everything! Donít talk so fast that your audience doesnít understand you and donít drop the last part of your speech. Thatís the biggest mistake people makeóthey speed up and leave out their close. Thatís not going to help you or your audience. Itís better to eliminate some of the points then it is to drop the close. RememberBusiness Management Articles, the close is how you make sales and help others to create breakthroughs in their lives and in their businesses.

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Arvee Robinson is a Persuasive Speaking Coach, Master Speaker Trainer, International Speaker, & Author. She teaches business owners, service professionals, and entrepreneurs how to use public speaking as a marketing strategy so they can attract clients, generate leads and grow their businesses. Arvee offers private coaching, workshops, and weekly teleclasses. For more information, visit

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