To continue my story…so there I was in front of an audience of 500, delivering a keynote to an association of food services professionals, when to my horror I discovered a mouse running around inside my bag of props.
Instantly, I felt panic rising in my chest and a scream threatening to escape from my throat. What should I do?! Fling the bag away from me and run off the stage? No, I was there to kick off the conference. Screaming, flinging things, or running away would send the wrong message.
Should I let the audience in on what was happening? What if they got hysterical? What if I got hysterical? I was 2 seconds away from hysterical already.
Also, food professionals are very sensitive about rodents. They take great pride in maintaining sanitary conditions in their kitchens. A mouse at their state conference? Offensive!
Suddenly, it came to me. I knew what to do.
I took a deep breath, walked to the front of the stage, held out the bag and in the calmest voice I could muster said, “I need a brave person to come to the stage…now.” A woman in the front row stepped forward smiling at me like she thought this was a funny bit I had planned.
I instructed her to take the bag out to the parking lot, dump out its contents and bring back only those items that WEREN’T moving.
I gave her the bag and she ran out the door with it. Then I told the audience, “I’m going to let you in on a secret. I planned this demonstration – complete with a live mouse – to emphasize the importance of never leaving food out uncovered. I know you live and work by that rule. And after what happened here, I’m going to follow that rule, too.”
The volunteer returned and handed me back my bag. I reached inside and held up one of my props for the audience: a dinner roll, one of a dozen I had placed in a bag in the wings an hour before I went on. I said, “In honor of you I am using food for my props today! How perfect that a mouse jumped in to the act to help me prove a point!”
The food folks laughed and clapped madly. Afterward, several came up to me and asked if I had been pulling their leg. No, I told them. I wasn’t courageous or clever enough to come up with the idea of planting a mouse in my bag. No, all the credit belonged to the mouse.
Here’s what the mouse taught me:
Lesson #1: There’s a saying that when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Here’s a similar saying: when life sends a mouse on stage, make it part of the show.
Lesson #2: Never make your problem the audience’s problem. Deal with it in the least distracting and most positive way possible.
Lesson #3: Prepare, prepare, prepare! Then if you are thrown a curve (or a mouse), you can move your material around and be creative in the moment.
Lesson #4: You are a leader when you stand on stage. When you get into challenging situations, model behavior your audience can learn from and use in their lives.
Do you have stories about unforgettable presentations you have given? How were they unforgettable? Good or bad? Memorable or nightmarish? We want to hear about them! Send them along and I’ll post them here for our readers.