Presentation Preparation for the Unexpected — Murphy’s Law Catches Up With All of Us

No matter how much preparation we’ve put into our presentation, no matter how carefully we’ve paid attention to the details, and no matter how confidently we walk onto the stage or podium, Murphy’s Law will catch up with us and create an unexpected event or experience when we are presenting. How should we handle this without letting it turn into a disaster?

Don’t ignore the unexpected! While attending a large national convention, I was listening to a delightful luncheon speaker who was positioned in the middle of the room on a low podium. A waiter with a large tray loaded with dirty dishes walked right up onto the podium, crossed in front of the speaker and down the other side. The speaker acted like nothing had happened and just kept on presenting. For several minutes, not one of us heard or paid attention to her words. It was a daunting experience for her, but she would have become more memorable if she had stopped and made some sort of comment — the more humorous, the better.

Practice for the unexpected! Realizing that it will someday happen to us, we must think of all of the unexpected crises that might occur and then practice how we will respond. My theory is that the more prepared we are, the fewer crises will happen. A well-known speaker had all of the power fail during his presentation to a huge group. This is a man who uses many overheads and, of course, a microphone. He asked if anyone had a flashlight or candle, and then proceeded to ask everyone to join him in a familiar song. Soon the power was restored and everyone in the audience loved him more than before.

Do everything you can to avoid the unexpected! As in the previous scenarios, the speaker had no control over the unexpected, but there are steps we can take in advance to cut down our chances of having to deal with it. A professional speaker told me once, “Never assume, always confirm.” This goes for the equipment to make sure you have what you need and is working, for the handouts if someone is making copies for you, for the address and time of your presentation with complete directions of how to get there, and everything else you need to make your presentation smooth and carefree.

Be ready to cope with unexpected travel problems! If you travel by air or rail as a speaker, you will definitely have to face missed or cancelled flights, layovers, and impossible connections. I suggest making every effort to give yourself an extra day for travel. The meeting planner will love you, as will your audience. I know speakers whose flights have been cancelled and to make sure they get to their speaking engagement, they rent a car and drive through the night. That’s the sign of a true professional.

Remember, always be a professional. Be prepared — especially for the unexpected!