You Want Me to Do What?!Last week I was chatting with Jane McGonigal, who speaks on using games to change the world. In the five years I’ve known Jane, she has become an excellent TED speaker. (You can see both of her talks on TED.com) I particularly enjoyed her 2012 talk and told her so. Imagine my surprise when she told me that her 2012 talk was the single biggest disaster in TED history.
Here’s what happened. Jane’s talk started off well. Then suddenly in the middle of her presentation, the electrical power went out. Jane was stranded on stage in a pitch-dark auditorium in front of 500 people. When the power was restored, the TED meeting planners wanted to make up for the time they had lost, so they moved on to the next speaker and Jane didn’t get to finish her speech.
But, late that afternoon they let her deliver the second half of her talk. Jane walked out on stage, expecting the energy in the room to be low. Instead, the enthusiastic audience greeted her with a standing ovation. Then, after her seamless performance and display of grace and grit, the audience stood and cheered.
Afterward, relieved that her two-part presentation had gone so well, Jane began to unwind. But, then came more bad news. TED had lost the first half of her speech due to the morning’s power outage. They wanted her to present the first half again, now 8 hours later, to an audience that had heard a full day of speakers.
Once more Jane took the stage and delivered the first half of her presentation flawlessly.
I tell my clients to devote at least 30% of their preparation time to rehearsing. Many balk at putting in that kind of effort. Jane McGonigal rehearsed her TED talk every day for 30 days. She left no room for failure and was prepared for anything.
When the stakes are high and you must succeed, your Plan B is to know your speech backwards and forwards so you can respond to last minute changes with poise and confidence.
Breathe, Recover and Go to Plan B
This second cautionary tale is one I often share in my presentations and with my clients. I was delivering a keynote to a state association of food services professionals, when to my horror I discovered a live mouse running around inside my bag of props.
I almost dropped the bag and ran off the stage. Instead I did the thing that saves me whenever things go awry in my presentations. I took a deep breath. Breathing helps me think. But, I had to think fast because there was no telling how long the mouse would stay in the bag. And the idea of it running into the auditorium…well, I couldn’t let that happen.
How was I going to tell 800 food professionals who held sanitation sacred that a mouse had crashed their conference? I took another 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, assuming this was a funny bit I had planned.
I asked her to take the bag out to the parking lot, dump out its contents and bring back only those items that WEREN’T moving. Then I told the audience that when the volunteer came back I would share a special surprise with them. When she handed me back my bag, I reached inside and held up one of my props for the audience to see: a dinner roll, one of a dozen I had placed in a bag in the wings of the stage an hour before I went on.
I said, “In honor of what you do, I am using food for my props today! How perfect that a mouse jumped in to the act to remind us how important it is to never leave food uncovered!” The food folks laughed and clapped in delight. Afterward, several came up to me and asked if I had been pulling their leg. “No,” I told them. “I’m not clever or brave enough to plant a mouse in my bag. All the credit belongs to the mouse.”
If I’m thrown a curve, my plan B is to be so prepared that I can think on my feet and come up with a creative solution.
When something goes wrong in your presentation, don’t make it the audience’s problem. Take a breath, recover and go to Plan B.
p.s. To read more about Jane’s TED disaster story on Huffington Post, click here.