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Murphy's Law:
How Speakers Can Prepare for the Unexpected

by Diane DiResta

"Anything that can go wrong, will"- Murphy's Law

Public speaking may still be the number one fear but it's not just speaking that scares people. Many speakers are afraid of what can go wrong-once they' re already on the platform. Sooner or later you'll come face-to-face with Murphy. So your best offense is a good defense.

Anticipate Problems-Step one to ensuring a successful presentation is to anticipate what could go wrong. What's your worst nightmare? Technology failure? Travel delay? Bad weather? You forgot your presentation? You didn't pack your shoes? Identify everything that could possibly go wrong.

Have an Action Plan-Once you identify the roadblocks come up with a contingency plan. Your approach may be different from another speaker's. Decide the right course of action for you in each situation. Plan for the worst.

Travel glitches-Never check your presentation materials. Carry them with you. Send an email attachment of your presentation to the meeting planner so that you always have another copy on file. Choose a back-up speaker to take your place in case of an emergency-preferably somebody who is nearby. The show must go on even if you never arrive. You will preserve your reputation if you can supply the names of substitute speakers.

Caught with your pants down-One woman was giving a speech behind the lectern when suddenly her half slip fell to her ankles. She didn't know what to do so with great aplomb she stepped out of it and kept talking. Recently, I arrived at my destination on a Sunday night only to discover that I forgot my shoes. In a panic, I asked the hotel clerk for the nearest store. Only the local K Mart was open. Luckily I found on pair of black shoes in my size for only $6.00! I made a joke about it to the class which broke the ice. A $6.00 pair of shoes from KMart was a lot better than showing up in sneakers.

Nothing is set up-Arrive early. Get to the room hours before your speech. Don't assume that it will be set to your specifications. Get the number of the AV person and test ALL equipment. Practice your speech in the presentation room one hour before the meeting to get the feel and the flow of the space. Prior to arriving have your techie talk to their techie. Not all systems are compatible.

Wrong audience/wrong message-This shouldn't happen if you did your homework. When the message isn't going over well be willing to dialogue with the group. Don't continue the slide show as rehearsed. Become a facilitator. Ask questions and engage in a discussion instead. You'll gain new information and may be able to salvage the presentation.

Unexpected emergencies-It may be a fire drill, an accident, or construction noise. Be flexible and creative. During a keynote to a large audience there was a fire drill. The speaker led the audience out to the parking lot and while they were waiting, he stood on a car and continued his speech. He didn 't miss a beat.

Expect the unexpected-Think creatively, take action, prepare for the worst. Don't let Murphy's Law get the best of you.

Copyright Diane DiResta 2003. All rights reserved.

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