Wednesday 8th January, 2014

Children, Animals & Technology

It’s a well-worn phrase in the acting world: never work with children or animals.

Why?  Because children and animals rarely stick to the script.

For the public speaker I would add technology to that list. When technology fails it can be the cause of more drama and embarrassment than a baby elephant called Lulu on a live edition of Blue Peter ever could.

Behold, Transformers Director Michael Bay falling to pieces during a live, televised Consumer Electronics Show (CET) press conference when the teleprompter he was relying upon failed (warning: this is excruciating to watch).

You may be wondering why how this could happen at such a big event.

The answer, of course, is preparation. If you’re not a practised public speaker it may not take much to cause you to freeze and a teleprompter failure in front of a live audience and the world’s media is more than enough to send a public speaking novice into a tailspin. Of course in the case of Bay, it’s obvious: he was speaking at the invitation of technology giant Samsung at the launch of its new new giant curved 4K television. Bay doesn’t work for Samsung. Bay didn’t know much about the product he was talking about. Bay was effectively pushed from Samsung’s aeroplane with a faulty parachute.

In his blog, Bay attempts to explain what happened (presumably for those unable to imagine the Mad Men-style conversation that must have taken place between him and Samsung executives following this avoidable debacle).

So how might this problem have been resolved differently?

1. Belt and braces (and parachute)

If you are planning to use technology of any kind, always have a back-up plan. This could be someone holding cue cards or it may be your own cue cards in your back pocket. It doesn’t matter how many times you test your tech in advance. Tech fails because that’s what tech does. Have a plan B – can’t do any harm.

If Bay’s predicament came about because Samsung pushed him out of a plane with a faulty parachute whose fault was that? In my opinion the fault lay with the speaker not the sponsor or the host. As speakers we have to take responsibility for ensuring that our presentations go well, no matter what. Check your own parachute, don’t expect anyone else to.

2. Don’t rely on tech in the first place

Make the effort to practise how you’re going to perform your talk. While having a script isn’t a weakness, you will give a more impressive presentation if you speak without notes or slides. Speak from the heart, but make sure you’re prepared. Techniques such as ‘mental rehearsal’ will help you to nail what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it so when technology fails you will still be in control.

3. Devise a preparation ritual

Things go wrong. That’s just what happens in life. If you are in a calm mental state you will be far more likely to cope when the unexpected happens. Create for yourself a personalised preparation ritual that puts you into just the right ‘headspace’ before you take to the stage. This won’t prevent bad things from happening but if they do you’ll be in a better mindset to deal with the situation.

4. Don’t say ‘I’ll wing it’ unless you’re really going to wing it

In a flustered state, Bay said ‘I’ll wing it’, and then doesn’t. When he said the words it was more a hope than a statement. You can only ‘wing it’ if you’ve rehearsed winging it. He clearly hadn’t and his only remaining option was to leave the stage.

5. Solicit help

As a speaker you are always a member of a team but no-one tells you that and no-one gives you the team. You have to take responsibility for creating a team around you. Before this presentation, Bay could have said to someone on the team ‘If the tech fails or if I dry up please would you step in’. He didn’t. Instead, he mumbled and stumbled his way up a public speaking cul-de-sac. Asking someone to help you isn’t a show of weakness. Stumbling off-stage during your own presentation because you were 100% reliant on a teleprompter probably is.

6. Embrace the drama

I know how odd this sounds. When things go wrong during my presentations I actually love it.

It’s all a matter of outlook. I see a drama as my opportunity to shine. A presentation that goes to plan is nice but it doesn’t demand very much from me as a speaker. I’m always prepared for the unexpected so when things go wrong I am able to switch up my game very quickly and show the audience what I’m really capable of when the chips are down! This brings a frisson to the event and the audience loves it.

Be prepared, get yourself into the right mindset for speaking and learn to embrace the opportunity that drama presents and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a fabulous speaker.

Categories: Confidence, Preparation

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