5 Lessons from a Speaking Engagement
Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking to the Rotary Club of Lake Charles about mold and moisture prevention. The presentation went great, but it got off to a rough start. This wasn’t my first time at the rodeo, so I managed to smooth things out. Here are some lessons and advice when addressing an audience.
Be Prepared. The club said they would have a projector available for me to use. Unfortunately, there was some sort of mix up, and there wasn’t one available. Fortunately, I always travel with my own equipment. Yes, projectors can be expensive, and their maintenance is expensive, but I speak to groups frequently and have encountered this situation before, and the investment has been worth it for me. So, I set up my own projector and was off to the races, which brings me to my next tip.
Configure Your PC Beforehand. Whether you use PowerPoint or Keynote or some other program, always open up your slideshow and get it exactly the way you want it before even leaving to go to your speaking engagement. I use the presenter view in Keynote which allows me to preview my next slide, view notes, and it has a timer, so I can make sure I stay within my allotted time. Yesterday when I plugged in my projector, all I could see was the presenter view on my laptop and nothing was being sent to the presentation screen. I emailed my son to see if he could talk me through what was wrong, but he was in class at LSU. A couple of kids tried to tinker with it to see what was wrong, but it turns out I had blacked out the presentation and just needed to hit the ESC key. Had I followed my own rules and set everything up before I left for Lake Charles, I wouldn’t have run into that snag.
Maintain a sense of humor. When things don’t go as planned, the last thing you want to do is either lose your cool in front of your audience or appear incompetent as a public speaker. As I fixed my setup, I jokingly told the audience that we’d cover cleaning up mold (and how to avoid it) over the next 3 hours. It got a good laugh and bought me time (if you’ve ever been to a Rotary luncheon, you’ll know that the speaker can talk as long as they want, but after 1:00 pm they’ll be talking to themselves). The point is, don’t panic, smile, and even if your projector isn’t working, you can still project confidence through your personality.
Don’t be afraid to wing it. Reliance on PowerPoint or Keynote presentations for public speaking has become a problem. A couple of years ago, the Anti-PowerPoint Party emerged in Switzerland leading up to Parliamentary elections there. While I still use visual presentations, as a public speaker, never be afraid to face your audience without the crutch of distracting graphics, animated text, and useless slides. You want your audience to pay attention to you, after all, don’t you?
Bring a backup. While I managed to get my setup working, I also had the foresight to print out my slides, so if I needed to, I could use them as a guide without the electronics. Yes, paper is old fashioned, but in the end, sometimes a physical backup is prudent.
What could have been a disaster turned out to be a great presentation. All it takes is some preparation, patience, and a willingness to engage your audience even while you’re trying to solve a problem. Do you have any stories about public speaking engagements gone wrong…or gone right? Leave a comment below.
Wynn L. White, P.E. has been solving problems for clients for over 40 years. Have a question? Contact him here.