If you speak in front of enough audiences, you will have incredibly positive experiences AND you will have a few doozies. You know the kind, you’re in the middle of something and you wonder how you’re going to get through the experience.
It can feel like you’re gambling with your reputation.
A huge part of minimizing the risk of something going wrong with your presentation for a specific audience is to find out as much as possible about the group you are presenting to.
Ask Who They Are
For years, requesting the meeting planner complete a pre-event questionnaire has been a part of my prep work. Yet, more than once, what the meeting planner told me and what the reality was didn’t match. Not by a long shot.
99% of the time you should be able to make things work no matter how far off the meeting planner is. But there’s always that one time no matter what you do, everything goes south.
One such occasion occurred about five years after I became a professional speaker. I was contacted by a woman who had heard me speak a few months prior to receiving her call.
“You’re the best speaker I’ve ever heard,” she gushed.
Thrilled to lock down a $4,000 contract (plus all expenses including flight, hotel and meals) for a 30 minute keynote, I went about doing my homework.
I talked with the meeting planner more than once to assure I had as much detail about the audience as possible.
The Audience Was Not What I Expected
Confident I was prepared, I was shocked to discover that, rather than the young group of mostly volunteers eager to hear me speak, the ballroom was filled with hundreds of elderly men and women, dressed to the nines, many whom had arrived in limousines.
Most of the women were wrapped in furs and dripping in diamonds. I cringed at the thought of all the animals who gave up their lives for hundreds of silver haired ladies. A part of me wanted to hightail it out of there as fast as possible.
From the moment I had been introduced, to the minute I finished my presentation, you could have heard a pin drop. You see, I had been hired to talk about success and here was a group of obviously very financially successful men and women who would be hard-pressed to learn anything from someone way below their position in society.
The worst part was, many couldn’t hear me very well. That became very evident when, the next day, I talked with the meeting planner to find out what the heck happened. Very aloof and not much in the mood to talk with me, with a little pressing on my part, she swore up and down that a couple of men in the group were convinced I used profanity.
“They were appalled,” she said with disdain.
I was shocked and told her I absolutely did not, but nothing I said convinced her otherwise.
“You recorded my presentation, didn’t you? What I recommend is that you review the tape. I’m sure then you will see there was no profanity on my part,” was the last thing I said to her.
Needless to say, I never got a testimonial from the woman. I also knew she would never recommend me to other meeting planners. Nor would she take any more calls from me.
Confused Was an Understatement
What happened????? I’m not quite sure, but I do know this; the experience didn’t kill me and it made me realize that life can throw you a curve ball no matter how well you prepare. All you can do is pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move forward.
To this day I’ve never figured out what went wrong, but I didn’t let one experience define me as a speaker. To do so would have been a grave mistake.
If I had, I may have given up on my speaking dream. And what a pity that would have been. Yet, I often see people give up when something goes wrong.
Trust me… when you’re in the game long enough, poop happens. It simply does. That’s a part of life. And when the poop hits the fan you have one of two choices; throw in the towel or learn from the experience.
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What a story! Thanks for sharing it Kathleen. This is one good lesson for me.
The sight of furs would have made me cry.
I learned a lot from the experience. Thanks Valentina
For sure we all have a trenches story or two like that one Kathleen. I learned from Burt Dubin years ago, to also to request of the meeting planner to be able to speak with 3 to 6 people who will be in the audience. Usually it’s then things get validated or not. Thanks for giving us the big picture to keep moving forward after one of these dark situations.
That’s a tried and true process and one way to minimize the zingers. 🙂 Thanks for sharing Patricia.