Wednesday 31st July, 2013

Danger! Unseated Rider!

I ought to know better.

As someone who speaks regularly and promotes herself as a professional, high quality public speaking coach, I take a huge amount of care to ensure that I ‘knock it out of the park’ every time I make a speech or presentation. After all, my public talks are the greatest advertisement for what I’m like to work with, far more cost-effective than advertising or email marketing.

But I keep making one crucial mistake: despite all my careful preparation I keep on forgetting how easily my talk can be sabotaged… by the event host.

It’s usual for the person hosting the event to introduce the speaker. Now it may sound egotistical, but you leave that person to their own devices at your peril. Although you may feel a bit uncomfortable telling them what you would like them to say about you doing so ensures that the introduction casts you in the best possible light. If you don’t tell the host what you’d like him/her to say then you are introducing a dangerous element of risk: that they might, albeit accidentally, reveal the punchline of your talk prematurely.

They never mean to do it, but it has happened to me so many times.

So, the cat is out of the bag, the horse bolted before the stable door was closed, the rider (you) has been unseated. What to do? You can’t make an audience ‘unhear’ something once they’ve heard it, so what can you do to get your presentation back on track?

1. Don’t panic. You didn’t brief the host sufficiently (naughty) and now you’re going to pay the price. You have no choice but to suck it up. Just promise yourself it won’t happen again and move on, people are waiting, and although you may be feeling a bit flustered, chances are they have no idea that a faux pas has taken place. After all, the only person who knows the full content of your talk is still you.

2. If you need a few moments to re-group and gather your thoughts you could use them to gently chide your host. Don’t blow your top (even though you might want to), just make light of it. The host will probably be a little embarrassed but the audience – THE AUDIENCE – will be charmed.

3. You can’t pretend it didn’t happen, but you can downplay it and minimise any negative impact. If the information that has been revealed too early was due to surface in 20 minutes from the point you’re at right now, it’s usually absolutely fine to carry on regardless, perhaps adding a wry ‘and as has already been revealed..!’.

Prevention is always better than cure.

1. Resist the temptation – or request – to tell the host too much about your talk before you make it. What they don’t know they can’t reveal.

2. Plan for disaster. If you know you’re not quick at thinking on your feet, have a plan B ready and smoothly implement it without a moment’s fuss.

Audiences are forgiving. No matter how hard you try to avoid it you will be an unseated rider at some point in your career. If it happens to you do as the horse does. Enjoy the lighter ride, keep calm and carry on.

Categories: How to, Preparation


  1. Mike B says:

    That was so funny. I was at the meeting where that happened AND, I heard the punchline days before the presentation began. However, Julie was great, the talk was great AND she finished on time too. A complete exemplar.

  2. REPLY

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