You can see it in your mind’s eye: the rapt attention of your audience; commanding the physical space like a sensei; technology working seamlessly – including state-of-the art audio. At the end you receive vigorous applause from the crowd, which is well-deserved because you prepared for this event. It’s all so perfect. You, my friend, are a public speaking rock star.
But then reality kicks in. As you walk into the room an hour early it dawns on you that everything is wrong. The tables are too far away. The lighting is way too dark. The projector placement will cut off your ability to move around. But wait, there’s more. The only microphone available is the one wired into the lectern, and worst of all, the event host tells you that because they are running so late, you are to start your presentation….wait for it…during dinner.
This is not a risk manager’s “what-if” scenario. It happened to me the other night. All that work on my PowerPoint presentation – which required wireless internet access and a great sound system to pull off – and all that effort to design just the right introduction, is now down the tubes. But I persevered because I always have a Plan B. I shifted my introduction to accommodate the clanging of silverware, I only used the microphone to bring the group back together after my opening and mid-way interactive exercises, and by the time I had reached the conclusion, I had an alternative strategy for making my point without the use of the internet. All this was possible, of course, because I arrived early.
If you find yourself in this position, keep one thing in mind: the audience doesn’t know that you are changing things on the fly. So don’t give it away by offering a long-winded explanation or telegraphing your disappointment. And most of all, don’t allow last-minute curve balls to affect your confidence because what matters most is that you show up – fully present and ready to engage. The rest is fluff.