The Disaster Speech and How I Handled It

I’ve been told that whatever can go wrong when doing a speech will go wrong at some point in your career. Of course, I like to think I’m different, or perhaps that I’ll be the lucky one and escape some of those challenges. If I just prepare well enough, everything will be OK.

Well, I recently

had an experience that humbled me. It was as if the Universe was letting me get a real taste of what can go wrong on the day of a speech. First, I showed up at the wrong location. I thought I knew where I was going. I went to the Commonwealth Club instead of the Colony Club! Who knew that there were two clubs in Richmond, Virginia whose names begin with a C! Fortunately the woman who had arranged for me to speak was available by cell phone. And, lucky for me, the Colony Club was only three blocks up on the same street! Whew! I was able to correct that mistake pretty quickly!

Once I got to the Colony Club and parked, I was unsure if I was in the right parking area. If I was wrong, my car would be towed. I decided to be safe rather than sorry. When I went to back up, there was a van parked behind me, preventing me from moving my car. The owner of the car was nowhere to be seen! Ahhhhh!!!! I decided to take my chances and left my car where it was.

When I got into the building I was dismayed to find I would be speaking in a ballroom in the basement. It is very difficult to make basements feel comfortable because they are under ground, usually have insufficient natural light and have the lowest energy in a building. The room proved to be as dismal as I could have imagined. Wall paper and carpeting, no matter how luxurious, just cannot make up for a lack of windows! And, the ceiling may have been a bit lower than normal because it felt like it was pressing down on me. Add to that several enormous columns that blocked my view of some of the participants. And, of course those participants couldn’t see me either! Not an ideal environment for making a speech.

“Oh, well,” I thought, “At least the people are very nice,” and I began setting up for my speech. First I discovered that the extension cord that had been provided for me would not accommodate my three prong plug. I had accidentally left my extension cord home with supplies I’d organized for a workshop I’m doing this weekend. That problem was quickly solved when I realized that I actually had a cord in my bag that would work. Great!

Then I couldn’t get my computer to talk to my projector. I’d set up my equipment many times with no trouble, but this particular day I had difficulty figuring out how to connect all the parts. It may have been that the light in the space was just dim enough to shut down the part of my brain that I need for technology challenges, especially since I am no technology whiz! Finally the woman in charge suggested that I shut down my computer and start over. Good idea! When I began to shut it down it magically began projecting my slides! Yeah! However, I still couldn’t get the remote to connect. The nice woman offered to advance my slides for me. I agreed to that and then remembered that I did have another remote that came with the projector. It worked! I was good to go!

When it came time to speak I stood up and took the microphone. To my surprise and dismay its cord was too short to reach all the way to where I needed to stand close to my computer. Wonderful! No problem, I’d just speak from the spot where the cord ended. Unfortunately the remote only worked when it was very close to the computer. So, there I was speaking into the microphone and then stretching my body to make the remote advance my slides. Because I was unfamiliar with that remote it took me some time to understand that it was slow to advance the slides. Over and over again I thought it hadn’t gotten the signal to advance and pushed the button again. Then it advanced two slides. Back and forth I went with the slides. What a fiasco!

I’m sure it looked like a comedy routine to the participants! What was I doing while all these challenges were occurring? I was thinking, “They told me that whatever can go wrong when speaking will go wrong. I guess this is what they meant!” And, I kept solving the problems right in front of me and kept on speaking. I kept acting professionally, making light of the challenges and moving forward despite the string of obstacles even though I just wanted to scream or pack my bags and call it a day. Fortunately I know my material well enough that I was able to do a good job delivering the content when the correct slide was on the screen. And, fortunately I was speaking to an audience of incredibly kind, patient and understanding people.

I was so glad when I finished that speech. I felt like I’d run a marathon! And, I’d pulled it off without losing my cool or throwing in the towel. It was like finishing a final exam. I had no hopes for an A on that exam. A passing grade would do. Much to my surprise a number of people came up to ask me questions and bought my book. I thought to myself, “I must have gotten my information across despite the comedy routine and delays!” And, the evaluation forms were all positive. Not one person commented on the comedy of errors they’d witnessed. What a miracle! What a learning experience for me!

So, the next time you run into obstacles on your path, I recommend that you remember that you just have to solve the next problem in front of you. Had I begun judging myself for my mistakes or allowed myself to ruminate about what the participants must be thinking of me, I could not have kept moving forward. Those thoughts would have shut down my creative energy and stopped me in my tracks. Instead, I kept problem solving. And, I kept thinking, “I can do this. I just have to finish this speech. What I’m doing is important and must be done.”

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