Want To See an Expert Show Her Worth? Watch Something go Wrong


By EDGE Women Speaker Azella C. Collins, MSN, RN

There was a loud “THUNK!” followed by a long, crackling “Sissssss…”

Thirty people were lined up across four aisles of the auditorium, standing behind microphones ready to ask questions when the sound system went out.

“THUNK, THUNK …….sisss, sisss…”

The speaker could see mouths moving and could dimly hear murmuring from the crowd. The sisssss was the sound system short-circuiting. The speaker moved to the edge of the stage and shouted, “Download ‘WO MIC’ to your laptop,” repeating again, “download WO MIC to your laptop!” There was no contingency for not having a sound system for a packed 250-seat auditorium.

Luckily there were two female students from Oslo, Norway who rushed to the stage and asked if they could help. They clearly understood what the speaker was asking the audience to do. Within 3-4 minutes they were able to connect WO MIC to their laptops.  While they worked with the audience to connect to their laptops and download the app to their smart phones, the speaker developed two additional slides: one stating which app to download and the second explaining Murphy’s Law in detail. A speaker’s got to have fun, right? After her two new “assistants” had downloaded the app, they each stood at one of the four defunct microphones to enable the participants to ask questions using the makeshift sound system. 

The speaker heard and answered every question -- almost 32 in total.

The entire episode, which could have been a disaster, was quickly resolved with participants leaving not only satisfied but also better informed. The Chapter president Binavarti Ranasinge  thanked the quick-on-her feet speaker over and over again, as well as the two young ladies.

Why do I know all of this? That speaker was I.

Despite all of our technology advances, it never ceases to amaze me (or other speakers I know) the amount of times something goes wrong around a speech. Sound system going out? You haven’t heard the half of it. How about fire alarm going off? Electrical black out? A computer that freezes up mid presentation? A clicker that never seems to move a slide forward (if I had a dollar for every time this has happened…). And it’s not just technical difficulties that can upend a presentation. We’ve all shared war stories as speakers about situations that did not lend themselves to a productive speech.

Know this: mishaps WILL happen.

Your best insurance for success is an expert speaker who can handle them.

In my case, this event wasn’t even planned.. I was invited to speak in Shanghai and Colombo, Sri Lanka. Thanks to positive audience response, I was asked to give a third speech in Negombo, Sri Lanka the following Saturday. It would be a different audience -  millennials. I knew that I had to reshape my message for it to resonate. I also recognized that additional information was required to ensure that the topic focused on objectives the president of Negombo Speaks felt would most benefit the group. A speech was fully developed with limited jargon, appropriate humor, and no metaphors.

When the Saturday arrived I followed my routine preparation: practiced on stage, checked the sound system, worked the power point and worked with stage lighting crew to ensure that my best side was prominently featured (yes, we do pay attention to that!). Despite all of this preparation, we still had a mishap on the day: a sound system gone kaput. Fortunately, as an expert speaker who is up on her tech, I knew just what to do.

That problem could have deprived my audience of really valuable questions and could have let down the president. Instead, our audience learned invaluable information and I gained two new assistants (at least for a couple of hours!).

So the next time you are planning an event and hiring speakers, maybe here’s a question to add to your list to make sure your speaker is prepared:

  • Describe the last time disaster struck during one of your presentations

  • How did you handle it?

Because you need to expect the unexpected and an expert speaker is your best insurance.