How To Keep Your Cool
When Your Speech Goes Up In Flames
By Arvee Robinson
As a public speaker, there are going to be times when things go awry, spin out of control, and mess up your confidence. As the Master Speaker Trainer, I’m always sharing the good stuff about public speaking, but I also want to make you aware of some of the ugly stuff that is out there. You need to be ready for anything.
The following questions come from my clients who frequently ask me how to handle these situations. By knowing about potential problems and learning positive responses to them, you will be ready when they happen to you.
1. What to do when your PowerPoint© doesn’t work?
I do not recommend using PowerPoint© for your presentation unless you have at least 90 minutes to speak and unless you are in your own room and can control it. You may feel it’s necessary to use Powerpoint©. Sometimes it is, but know that you are setting yourself up for complications and problems when you use it.
Let’s imagine this scenario: You are going to speak on someone else’s stage. You’ve asked them if there’s going to be a projector. They say yes, so you bring your flash drive. Before your speech, you plug it in and it doesn’t work. What are you going to do?
One particular speaker on my stage had this happen. It took 30 minutes and five people rallying around before he could actually start his presentation. It was because of an incompatibility with the projector. When under the gun with five or six gurus trying to fix the problem, with an audience waiting, and a speaker sweating, it doesn’t make for a nice, happy, controlled event. This particular speaker was adamant about using PowerPoint©. He could not go on without it. You can.
I was in a multi-speaker situation and had a PowerPoint© incompatibility problem right at the beginning. I didn’t care. I knew my material. I started without it and it was fine. In 20 minutes they got the problem fixed. I was almost disappointed because when you don’t have PowerPoint©, you can capture your audience’s attention at a deeper level.
In this situation, I kept my cool because I am not my PowerPoint© and PowerPoint© is not my presentation. And neither is it yours.
If you’re selling from the stage and you need to show before and after pictures or statistics, it might make sense for you to have PowerPoint©. Sometimes you must decide to let go of the PowerPoint©. It might not fit the venue, the situation or the number of people. Be ready for that. Remember: you are the presentation.
I was speaking on a large stage with a big screen for my PowerPoint© and there were only 15 people in the audience. It was ridiculous to show my PowerPoint© on a huge screen. I trashed my PowerPoint© that day. I jotted down some quick notes and, since it was an intimate group, I stayed on the floor with the audience. It came off a lot better.
How do you keep your speech from going up in flames if you’re PowerPoint© doesn’t work? Keep going. Don’t depend on PowerPoint©. Know your material. You are the presentation. Never forget that. You are the speaker. You are the star!
2. What do you do when your shoe gets caught on the stage?
This might not be a problem for men, but I’ve seen it happen to women who wear skinny high heels. One gal walked right out of her shoes and decided to give her entire presentation barefoot. I don’t think it helped her sales or her professionalism.
Ladies, if you feel your heel is getting stuck on the stage, the best way to handle it is to make a simple joke about it, take your heel out, and then ask for somebody to come and take the stage. Period. You don’t want to continue your entire presentation with your foot caught or worrying about it getting caught on the stage.
As a speaker you should always get to the venue early. Many stages are put together in blocks that fit together. A good hotel will tape the seams, but don’t take that for granted. Come early, check out the stage and make sure the seams are taped before you speak.
3. What do you do if there is a heckler in the room?
Hecklers come in all shapes and sizes. A heckler can be someone who is over-enthusiastic and always wants to participate, who always wants to answer your questions, and who always wants to be that over achiever and not let anyone else participate.
A heckler also can be someone who is negative, who wants to challenge your knowledge, and who asks questions to challenge you.
Another form of a heckler is the know-it-all; someone who is agreeing with you, but at the same time is over-sharing his or her knowledge on the same subject.
The main thing you want to do to any heckler is to diffuse them. Do it in a way that is not antagonistic. Diffuse them in such a way that puts them at ease or puts them at bay for the time being.
You want to gently put a heckler in their place because they are disrespecting your audience. Believe it or not, your audience will be very upset if you as the speaker let a heckler continue to disrupt your speech. Your audience won’t say anything, but they want you to get control of that individual.
If someone is a know-it-all and just keeps talking, you simply acknowledge them. They want to be acknowledged. Any one who continually raises their hand, always wants to participate and is over-active simply wants attention. Recognize that. Say to them, “it sounds like you have a lot of experience in this area. I’m going to talk about that a little later, so when the time comes, would it be alright if I call on you?”
They’re going to nod and be grateful, and then you never call on them. Just let it go. You diffused it. If they come up afterwards, just say, “Oh, I apologize. I forgot,” or “I’m sorry. I just ran out of time.” Be as honest or truthful as you can be. It’s okay. Remember: your audience is expecting you to take control of the situation.
An over-achiever is one of those kinds of hecklers who wants to participate in everything, or any time you ask for a volunteer they run up to the stage and push out others. Simply diffuse the situation by acknowledging them for being active. Say to them, “Right now I want to call on someone who hasn’t had a chance to come up here.” If it’s a guy, say, “Let’s hear from a woman.” That way he no longer qualifies. You can also say, “I want to save your energy and keep you for the end of my talk. ” Maybe it will be collecting the business cards or something, but the situation is diffused.
4. What happens when you ask a question and no one responds?
This might happen when you are in the middle of your talk and have asked people to raise their hands in answer of a question. If they are not raising their hands, either the question you asked isn’t clear or it might be too confusing or complicated. If you’re asking a very detailed, intellectual question, you might want to make it more general.
For example, if you were asking what kind of relationship causes people not to communicate, it sounds too complicated and so they don’t answer. Instead, say, “How many of you want a good relationship?” Simplify and generalize. If your audience is not responding, perhaps they don’t want to answer. For instance, if you ask, “How many of you have claimed bankruptcy?” Always keep your questions simple and positive.
When you are using enrolling questions as an attention grabber to begin your speech and no one raises their hand, it’s probably too complicated and they don’t know what to do. Always raise your own hand when you ask an enrolling question, such as, “How many of you want new clients?” Then, raise your other hand. “How many of you not only want new clients, but want a ton of clients?” You’re showing them what to do. If they still don’t raise their hands, just say “by a show of hands” and they will show their hands.
5. What do you do when someone wants to share a stage with you?
This happened to me when I spoke. After this old guy introduced me, I went up the stairs to the stage. He had a cane and didn’t want to walk down the stairs, so he sat on a chair on stage. I was taken aback. It distracted me the whole time I gave my speech. Like most people, he couldn’t sit still. He tapped his cane, looked at his shoes, and was basically a real distraction.
What do you do in this case? Kindly, gently, and with humor, ask the person to leave the stage. Believe it or not, he did it to me again another time. I kindly asked him to leave, saying, “Okay, Joe, you’re not going to share the stage with me. This stage isn’t big enough for the two of us.” It was a nice way to ask him to get off my stage.
I’ve had people come up onto my stage uninvited when I’ve been doing my one-day events. I won’t say anything, but I’ll gently guide them off my stage and say, “Let’s do this down here.” Once they’re off the stage, I’ll walk back onto the stage. Remember: You don’t want your audience to see you sweat or be upset.
6. What do you do when someone talks on a cell phone during your presentation?
This is quite common nowadays. You’ll be speaking and see people texting, yelping, or checking their email. This happened to me when I was speaking for a real estate group on the Queen Mary. Because it’s a ship, the meeting rooms are long and narrow. It’s not ideal for speaking. I had to walk around pillars and through the audience with a microphone so they could see me.
A young girl was actually talking on her cell phone. Talking! I jokingly made a comment about her being on the phone. I said, “That call better be for me and it better be making us both a ton of money.” She got upset about what I said, but everyone else thought I had handled it very well. I said, “It’s okay, honey. I was just having fun with you.” I diffused it in a positive way. Always stay on top of the situation. Never get into an altercation with an audience member. Keep it always positive. Diffuse. Diffuse. Diffuse.
I was speaking at a high school business academy. In the front row a girl and boy wearing ear buds were listening to music. I said, “Hey, what are you listening to? I hope it’s better than I am.” Since they were students, I told them that their music would be there later, but that I would only be there once and my message would only be said once, and could they please do me the courtesy to listen. They did. I acknowledged it, diffused it and, in that case, asked them to stop.
7. What do you do when people are talking during your speech?
This happened to me when I was on a multi-speaker stage at a four-day event in Las Vegas. I shared the stage with some powerful speakers like Tommy Hopkins, Marshall Silver, Bill Walsh, Bernie Dorman, Larry Benet and the list goes on and on. (Yes, mostly men, ladies, because they are dominating the stage these days.)
When it was my time to speak, my speaking spot had been changed. It had been cut in half because every speaker in town wanted to speak. All of a sudden I hear this commotion. I’m into my personal story so I’m only about 5 minutes into my speech.
I stopped speaking. Normally, people will stop talking. They look up because it’s quiet and you smile to diffuse. It’s a positive response, you don’t embarrass anybody and they’re quiet. In a seminar situation, I will just walk up to them and put my hand on their shoulder while I’m talking and they will stop. No harm, no foul.
In this particular case, when I became silent, they just kept talking and didn’t even notice. I had an audience of 50-60 people. I simply said into the microphone, “Excuse me in the back of the room. Hello!” I had to say it a couple times to get their attention. “Excuse me, could you give us the same respect that we gave you?” They were quiet, and the whole audience applauded me because I took care of the room. People talked about that incident for the next two days and how I took control of the room. I did it politely and positively, but I took charge.
8. What do you do when you’re told your time has been cut?
I’ve had my time cut many times in my speaking career. It will happen to you sometime somewhere. Do I like it? No, but you have to respect whoever is putting on the event. It is usually due to other speakers before you who did not respect the time and went over.
What can you do? You have to be grateful for the time you have and be flexible enough in your presentation. That’s why I share with everybody my system and formula. If you do my system right, it doesn’t matter how much time is cut.
Remember my speech sandwich? It is the meat in the middle that you reduce. If you have an hour speech and you’re planning on 5-7 topics, but now you only have 30 minutes, what do you do? You take out four things and now you have three good nuggets.
In other words, you don’t have to revamp your entire presentation. All you do is take out some of the meat. It’s like a big old sandwich, loaded with turkey, and it’s so big you can’t get your mouth around it. What do you do? You don’t take out the bread or the lettuce; you take out some of the meat. That’s what you do in your presentation.
When this happens to me, I always try to negotiate. I say, “I understand they took too much time. I get that, but I planned on an hour speech and now I have to cut it in half. How about we split the difference and I do 45? Would that help you out?” It’s either yes or no. If it’s no, okay, but maybe you’ll get 15 minutes more.
Don’t be upset or tell your audience your time was cut. You never want the promoter to look bad, especially if you ever want to speak there again.
9. What do you do when there’s no projector?
If you go to a speaking event and find out there’s no projector and you’re relying on one for your PowerPoint©, what do you do? This can happen. Quickly write out some notes for yourself to keep you on track and deliver it as if it never had a PowerPoint© attached to it. Don’t get upset. Don’t try to go out and get a projector. You’ll be all sweaty and nervous. It’s just not worth it. Let it go.
10. What do you do when you have a big space with only a few people?
I shared with you previously what I did when I had a big stage and few people. I decided not to use my PowerPoint© but step down into the audience and speak.
When I was in Las Vegas, the room was ready for 600 people. Only 44 people showed up. People were scattered throughout the large space. In this case, I asked them to grab their chairs and bring them up to the stage. The majority of people brought their chairs and set them in front of me, theater style. It made for an intimate talk. The energy was contained and not spread out all over the place.
11. What do you do when no one walks to the back of the room to buy?
This might happen when you are speaking from the stage and you make an offer and an invitation to buy, but no one goes to the back of the room to buy. This has happened to me. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen a lot. What do you do?
You still go to the back of the room and you welcome anybody who comes by. There’s always going to be somebody even if they’re not ready to buy. You engage with them, smile, and keep it up as if you’ve got a lot of people in the back of the room. There’s nothing else you can do. If no one goes to the back, be unattached to the outcome. I know that’s the hardest thing to do.
Make goals for how many sales you want to make, but be unattached to the outcome. It will tear you up inside, and you’ll wonder why no one came back even though you gave a great speech? Remember, sometimes people are not ready to buy. Maybe they bought already. Maybe you need to spruce up your offer. Maybe there aren’t enough people in the audience and the energy is low. There are many reasons why.
If you are the last speaker on the last day, competing with other speakers, then there’s probably no money left in the room so no one will buy from you. That can happen. Don’t be attached to the outcome. As long as you present a persuasive speech, knowing that there are many circumstances that you’re not in control of, you can’t feel bad. You are still the star!
Arvee Robinson is The Master Speaker Trainer, International Speaker and Author. She teaches business owners, service professionals, and entrepreneurs how to use public speaking as a marketing strategy to attract more clients, generate unlimited leads and grow their businesses effortlessly. She teaches a proven speaker system for delivering persuasive presentations, and easy formulas for creating killer elevator speeches and magnetic self-introductions. Arvee has helped hundreds of individuals win clients and close more sales every time they speak. She offers private coaching, workshops, and weekly teleclasses. Her programs will make you money for the rest of your life.
For more public speaking tips go to: http://www.ArveeRobinson.com