Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Worst public speaking moments

Jerry Seinfeld likes to quote a statistic that the #1 fear of people is to speak in public and #2 is death, which means that at a funeral more people would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.

Admittedly, it can be a terrifying experience to get up in front of a group of people you don't know and keep them interested. In a recent running diary, I told the story of a presentation that went epically bad and one that went a lot better. Then I got to wondering what others have gone through, so I posted a question over on LinkedIn Answers:
What was your worst public speaking moment and what did you learn from it?

I got some great answers the first is on not getting rattled:
"In a public presentation as I was presenting a controversial proposal, a Board member jumped up visibly VERY angry, grabbed his wife by her elbow and almost drug her out. I knew I was to be fired and I have no idea what I said the remainder of the presentation. It could not have too off topic, because I kept my job. The Board member was upset because his wife had whispered she thought she had left the stove turned on."
I like this one because my wife is from this area of the country and this sort of thing actually happens:
"Allow adequate travel time: My directions to reach a small community group in Louisiana: From Alexandria, go south on Hwy 1 for 30 miles to the flashing yellow light, turn left, when road ends in a "T" turn left, first building on the left. So, I allowed 1 hour. As soon as I turned left off of the highway, I entered swamp. Over 1 hour later from that spot, after literally stopping for 10 minutes while a 8' alligator crawled off the road, I came to the ONLY building since I left the highway - it was surrounded by dug-out canoes and had no electricity for my audiovisuals. But the "worst moment" passed, they had passed the time talking and were surprised I had found the place. It was one of the friendliest and most receptive audiences I've ever had."
Be prepared:
"I think that having to talk to empty slides on the screen tops the list here. The images for my talk have not come up on the screen as I have saved the wrong version of the talk and ended up with 2 blank slides. Now I always double check my versions that I upload at conferences and other meetings."
A physical mishap:
"As I slid the chair back, the carpet began to bunch-up and the chair flipped backward WITH ME IN IT!

The chair rolled over very slowly, in fact my co-presenter said it was like watching a scene from the Matrix it was so slow. The audience gasped as I hit the floor. 40 years of martial arts training resulted in a reflexive back roll and I landed on my feet in a fighting stance (trust me, looks worse when you do). By now the audience was in a full fledged belly laugh, as was my co-presenter and our entire support team. "
And finally, watch out for that sneaky desktop image:
"I was in the audience for training from a network hardware vendor. The vendor turned on his laptop, plugged in and started organizing his notes next to his laptop. As the machine booted, the background of his desktop flashed on the projector: A shot of a fully naked female engaged in what gave a new meaning to 'oral presentation.'

Half the crowd gasped. Half laughed. And one female said, 'OH MY GOD!' By the time the presenter figured out there was a problem, the background had changed to his company's logo. After several minutes of discomfort, the presenter finally asked, 'What just happened.' Our Director of Training (who was female), said to him, 'We'd best talk in the hallway.' She returned, the speaker did not. And I never did get training on that company's equipment."


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posted by Pete Johnson @ 11:30 AM   2 comments


At 6:37 PM, Anonymous Kaila Colbin said...

Back in 2000, I traveled around the US with my business partner Ken doing stage shows to teach kids about the Internet. We had a big set with a giant screen and costumes and we'd run out on stage, this real high-energy production, and I'd grab the mike and go, 'Hey everybody! I'm Kaila, and this is Ken. How are you all doing?' As if they cared. We thought we were rock stars or something.

Anyway, one day the woman introducing us to the crowd totally screwed up our names. I can't remember what she said, but it was something like, 'And now here's Justine and Peter!' or something just completely off the wall. And I thought that was funny, but I also thought it would be kinder to let her save face; after all, it shouldn't really make a difference to our presentation if the kids know our real names. So I tried to go with the flow.

Big mistake. I got as far as, 'Hey everybody! I'm Justine, and this is Pe...' and then I just lost it completely. I was laughing so hard I was snorting and crying and couldn't breathe and I had to leave the stage. Ken, bless him, picked up the baton and kept the show going for the 15 minutes it took me to get my act together.

Lesson learned: being a public speaker and a chronic giggler can be a dangerous combination!

At 6:22 AM, Blogger Pete Johnson said...

That's hilarious, Kaila. It's one thing to have the pronunciation of your name butchered (which, understandably, never happens to me) but to have the introduction not even be close is just plain absent mindedness on the part of that other person. Giggles are understandable at that point 8).


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