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How to Handle Some Public Speaking Surprises That Can Happen

By: Susan Dunn

Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach, coaches individuals and executives in emotional intelligence, and offers workshops, presentations, trainings, Internet courses and ebooks.  She is a regular presenter for the Royal Caribbean and Costa cruiselines.  Visit her on the web at and for FREE ezine.

Need some tips on how to handle some curve balls you may get when you’re presenting from someone who’s been in the trenches?

What do you do when you get there and all the conditions have changed? You were promised a projector and there is none. There’s a mike, but it doesn’t work. You were told 20, and you have 100. Expect this, and half the stress will be eliminated. Be prepared to speak under any conditions, and supported solely by what you brought with you. Always have a mental Plan B!

What do you do when someone from the audience says, “Who are you?” Sometimes you won’t have an introduction, so don’t forget to give yourself one!

What do you do when someone from the audience blurts out, "I know that's true because I was a victim of incest [or something else]. So what should I do?" Express your sincere concern for the trauma in the person's past and ask them to speak with you afterwards, or to call your office--the number is on your handout--so you can give it your full attention.

What do you do when you’re losing your audience and their eyes are glazing over? Stop right where you are and address it. Ask the audience why you aren't reaching them and what you can do about it. Ask them to stand up and do calisthenics. Wake them up!

What do you do when you show up and it turns out they've publicized a different speech topic than you were told? Acknowledge the situation, without blaming anyone. Say, "I was prepared to speak on "Strengths" and I see here I'm expected to talk on "Personality Assessments." Talk while you compose yourself, then start talking about personality assessments giving lots examples from the strengths one.

When the transparency on the screen is bouncing up and down despite your best efforts? There’s always a handy person in the audience. People love to help.

When someone asks a question you can’t answer?  Ask if anyone in the audience can answer it.  Often they can. Thank them for the contribution and continue forward. If no one knows either, tell the person you’ll get back to them with the answer.

When someone in the audience is trying to upstage you? Got to nip this one in the bud. Immediately address their need for attention. Ignoring them will only make it worse. Give them an opportunity to talk for a moment, then thank them and continue on with a firm hand.

When a tile has fallen on your head, you’ve mispronounced someone’s name, and the mike just went out? You’re the “primal” leader up there and the group will react the way you react. Laugh and take it in stride, and they will too! Emotions are contagious.

When someone expresses interest in your services and says they’ll email you? Don’t you believe it!  Give them your card, but get theirs and their email address. They’ll forget, but you won’t!

© copyright, Susan Dunn, 2003

Other Articles by Susan Dunn

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