I recently watched a speaker insult a delegation from a foreign country during his presentation. When asked a question he did not understand, instead of trying to clarify exactly what was being asked, the speaker gave a confusing answer and then told the participant he must be confused. Ouch!
If you have heard more than a couple of speakers in your life, you have probably seen a cringe-worthy moment or two on stage. It’s painful to watch a speaker blunder or crash and burn.
Cringe-worthy moments stand out and stick in audiences’ heads.
For example, in the first scene of The Social Network the actor playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg demolishes what’s left of his relationship with his girlfriend. Lacking social sensitivity to the extreme, he makes one jaw-dropping verbal blunder after another and bats non-stop insults at his girlfriend. Not a pretty picture and one that’s hard to forget.
And then there’s Michael Scott, manager of the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company on the television show, The Office. The number of social offenses Michael makes at staff meetings is off the charts, even by HR standards. His insults about ethnicity and sexual orientation are outrageous. Michael’s unfiltered personality provides flawless comedy and one cringe-worthy moment after another.
If you are a speaker who wants to improve, get paid or be invited back, you must be an ambassador of good will.
That can be a challenge under stressful conditions. Several years ago I was invited to speak for a state association of 500 school food professionals. During my presentation I reached in to my bag of props and found a mouse skittering about. Yes, a live mouse had climbed in my bag while it sat in the wings before I went on stage!
I realized in that moment, just one breath short of shrieking, that food service professionals and rodents don’t co-exist well in kitchens or at annual meetings. So, what’s a speaker to do?
I’ll share my solution in my next post, but I would love to hear how you would have handled that situation. And please send your stories of unforgettable things that have happened in your presentations and how you handled them!