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If you’ve ever had to give a speech, one of your biggest fears is that something will go wrong. It’s like this…things happen. It isn’t what happens that really matters, it’s how you handle the situation that really counts. People may remember what happened, but they will also remember how you turned it around and made it positive, or how everything went wrong from there. The choice is up to you. We can’t expect everything to go the way we want it to all the time, but we can anticipate things happening and how we’ll handle them.

Imagine in front of a room that holds 50 of your peers. I’ve been there. I was doing a national presentation to a room full of teachers on how to teach to tactile learners. I’m rather passionate about that topic, so I can be quite animated when I speak. I clicked the button for a slide to come up, and my jaw dropped. On the screen was a picture of me in my pajamas, hair a mess, no makeup holding up a Christmas present with a goofy look on my face. I was humiliated. This was something speakers have nightmares about. I took a second to breathe and get my composure and said, “…and that’s how I look after a week of teaching tactile learners.” The audience laughed, and they were unsure as to whether or not I did that on purpose. I let them wonder, and went on. I didn’t use the last few slides.

I had put that presentation together quickly, and the picture names were alphabetically close in my pictures, and I had put the wrong one. How I missed it, I don’t know. The point is, however, how I handled it. I didn’t panic, I didn’t get so flustered I couldn’t finish. I took a second to become stable and continued. That’s what you have to do in public speaking. The key thing is to expect the unexpected, and plan how to handle it.

  • Don’t panic—Panic is the number one thing not to do when things go wrong. Sometimes equipment doesn’t work, if it doesn’t, make sure you have a back-up plan and can present without the technology. Sometimes you say the wrong words, and it comes out as something embarrassing. Wait for the laughter to stop. This will give you a few seconds to catch a breath and think. If you can use it for your presentation, like I did, say something funny and go on. Otherwise, just say “what I meant was…” and go on.
  • Keep your composure—The phrase, “Never let them see you sweat,” applies here. If you get frustrated, distracted, or upset by what happened, you won’t reach the goal of effectively presenting your message. Stand straight, and continue speaking with authority. Don’t slouch down and sound defeated.
  • Have a back up plan—As stated above, back-up plans are sometimes needed. Try to anticipate problems. Write them down. For each one, do what you can to prevent it, but create a back-up plan in case it does happen.

Whatever bad happens to you when you’re speaking, it shouldn’t be enough to make you quit. Speaking is learned. Learn from your mistakes and make you next presentation better.


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