On a recent conference call with my team, I put the question out there: “Hey gals, I’m working on an article on how to be prepared for speaking mishaps. Do you happen to remember some of my not-so-fun, terrible, or just plain embarrassing speaking moments?”
I’ve spoken at hundreds of events over the last decade, and I really needed help with this.
I continued… “I mean be honest—you were there with me at many of these.”
More silence. Then a cough. And some rustling papers.
I added, “Even stuff that happened behind the scenes. It’s just us talking here.”
Then, they let loose. A barrage of assorted memories from over the years:
“Your wardrobe malfunction in Orlando?”
“Your diarrhea at the Westin?”
“The nipply top in Vegas?”
“Phoenix when you got in a huge fight with your boyfriend?”
“San Francisco when you sold NOTHING whatsoever?”
I then realized… my team not only knew too much, they remembered too much.
But there ARE a few key crazy moments I do want to share with you. Why? Well, first of all to assure you these things happen to everyone. Second, to emphasize it’s not what happens to you, but how you respond to it that determines your success.
(Please note that many details and names have been changed to protect the bizarre people and events involved.)
Here we go…
1. The Drunken Testimonial
Long Beach, 2009. Going through the lobby of the conference center, I spotted a few colleagues I knew, and waved hello. The group included an old client whom I’ll call Carrie, and I could tell she already had too many glasses of wine at the bar.
It was finally my turn, and I went on stage, and just rocked it, walking the audience through my 7 steps of marketing online. You know those moments you know you’re “on”? You’re in the zone? That was me.
And now was the time in my talk for my magical video to play.
This video, although only 3 minutes long, featured over 15 success stories from small business owners who had used my program. They were making thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands more dollars thanks to what they learned from my teachings. They were sharing this information themselves in the video.
It was powerful. Mindblowing. And totally necessary. This video sold FOR me. It ALWAYS sealed the deal.
I smiled confidently, cued the A/V staff to play the video, and looked up at the screen as the lights dimmed, waiting for the magic moment to begin.
Thinking perhaps the guys in the back did not hear me, I cued them again. Nothing.
Then I yelled to the back of the room, “It’s time to play the VIDEO. The one I gave you earlier and you said was all set? … Yes THAT one.”
Still nothing. Then, wild scurrying around the A/V table. It started to look like a Three Stooges skit, with Larry, Curly, and Moe all pointing fingers at things and each other, tearing through items on the table, knocking things over, and pushing random buttons on equipment.
Still silence, in the dark.
My golden video was not going to play.
I looked at the audience, and then I must have looked panicked, because at the back of the room, I saw a hand go up, and heard someone warble, “I can tell them ALL about your program Ali!”
It was Carrie. And she was already teetering up the aisle at a good clip. The lights were coming back on. And it was too late to stop her.
When she got up front to the stage steps, she paused briefly and took a breath before slowly waddling up.
And then, ladies and gentlemen, not knowing what else to do… I handed her the microphone. (??!!)
Carrie, bless her heart, was at this point just hammered. And she proceeded to deliver not quite a success story, but convey that she thought my product was indeed swell.
During her monologue she started to break a sweat, and there was some swaying back and forth. At one point I thought she was going to fall back off the stage completely.
At this point I myself was sweating, and I thought for a moment what would happen if I just said, “Well, thanks everyone!” and walked out the back door.
Lesson learned: Always have backup plan for any media you will be using. Right after that event, I opened up my PowerPoint file and added in a slide for each person’s success story that I could talk through in case the video did not work. I also now always have a printout of my slides handy in case my PowerPoint isn’t working either.
2. The Movie Theater
Vegas, 2010. I was excited to speak at a huge business summit at a major hotel and casino whose main stage speakers included Mark Cuban. The event was so large, with dozens of breakout sessions, that it was hard to find anyone in charge. When we arrived and looked at the agenda, it said my talk was in the “Movie Theater”. Sounded big to me—I thought it was a cute name for a lecture room or other venue, and didn’t give it a second thought.
That afternoon, while I was in my hotel room getting my hair and makeup done, my business partner Liz came in and said (I hate it when she says this)… “OK, we’re going to laugh about this later… but there’s something I have to tell you.”
And she proceeded to explain to me I actually was speaking in the movie theater that was inside the hotel/casino. I blinked and looked at her, waiting for her to then say, “Just kidding!”
But Liz had that “I’m panicked but I can’t get Ali panicked so I’m just going to smile” face. And I realized… I was about to speak in a honest-to-god movie theater. I then thought, “Well, it can’t be that bad. I mean they’re going to have it set up for speaking, right?”
We followed the map through the casino until we detected that fake buttery popcorn smell of the movie theater. Then we walked past the movie posters and the snack bar (which was open, because there were movies playing in the other theaters). As people walked in, I wasn’t sure if they were going to see Iron Man 2 or coming to my talk.
My Jimmy Choos made a squishy sound on the sticky floor as I walked in. I was speaking in the middle of the theater (literally) on one of the landings to the people seated above me in the next section.
I turned to the screen and saw my Powerpoint appearing 30 feet tall. Then I turned to the section above me and the 100+ people who were probably wondering what they were doing in a movie theater as well. And how the hell this was going to work.
The mic they provided wasn’t working. As we were running behind, I just decided to speak loudly and get this over with. I introduced myself, and then clicked the remote to begin my PowerPoint presentation, pointing it up to the little projector booth where the computer actually was.
It didn’t work. And really, that wasn’t surprising given that I was trying to aim it 150 feet up and through a wall. I saw some guy up in the projector booth, and I yelled, “Can you change the slide?” but he wasn’t responding.
I tried again. Nope.
Then I realized… The booth was soundproof.
Now, these days I rarely use PowerPoint for a talk. But this was more of a teaching session where I had a lot of examples and client case studies on building your list online. The audience had to see what I was talking about. I was at a loss for what to do.
This is when my assistant Annika jumped into action. As I continued talking, I heard her ballet flats scamper up the 50 stairs or so to the projector booth door, and shove her way in. Suddenly the guy’s head disappeared from the little window, and there was Annika’s, and a thumbs-up. She had probably knocked him over.
From there on I would gesticulate wildly to Annika when I needed the slide changed, and shouted to the audience to emphasize things I knew the audience needed to hear.
Lesson learned: There will be times you just have no control over your environment. Take a deep breath, and go with the flow. I’ve learned to speak with the lights out, during fire drills, and in the middle of crowds eating their lunch. And always have someone with you to support you in case anything goes wrong. And remember Liz was right… you will laugh about it later.
3. Wet Butt, Boogers, and High-Beams
As a new mom of twins, the first two items may be something I deal with more now, but this actually has to do with me.
Los Angeles, 2010. During a bathroom break, I accidentally backed up into the sink while talking with someone, and got a huge water stain on my bum. I was wearing a red dress, and it looked like I wet my pants.
Frantic, I called for a team member… who called our event planner… who called the hotel staff to bring us a hairdryer. I then stood for 10 minutes making awkward small talk while my event planner blew-dry my butt. And my team stalled our attendees by starting an impromptu conga-line to “Hot, Hot, Hot”.
Lesson learned: Be careful in restrooms because often there is water pooled on the edge of the sinks. And if in doubt, start a conga line.
And if you are female, you WILL be scrutinized more on stage. I don’t like it either, and no it’s not fair. But it is what it is. So just look good.
Make sure everything is “in its place”, and you aren’t giving an additional show. I highly recommend Spanx if you’re wearing a dress (which I swear by now after years ago seeing my back view on camera).
If you will be seated on stage, test sitting in your skirt or dress at home in front of a mirror. If you are a nipply gal and your friends can always tell the temperature by looking at your chest, wear a padded bra or use those sticky inserts. And always glance in a mirror before you go on stage or out to talk with people—do a nose check, teeth check, etc.
Have a little emergency kit on hand that includes tissues, costume tape, hairspray, safety pins, concealer, and anything else you can think of. (My kit has over 30 items in it. Overkill? Yes. But in three years, we’ve used every item at least once.)© Copyright 2014 Ali Brown