And here’s what happened: What sounds like a speaking disaster turned out to be a great speaking experience, for me and for the audience. Turns out that getting a taste of “be ready for anything” last night was more like lemonade than lemons to me. In fact, I’m still smiling about it, and getting lots of compliments and good feedback from the audience and the organizers.
How’d that happen? Here’s the speaker’s take:
• The organizers chose a timely topic and knew their audience was motivated: Many in the audience were worried about or affected by shifting employment conditions, or work independently and want to ramp up their marketing. Many, too, are adjusting to using social media as a networking and marketing tool, so they had lots of questions. That’s a powerful impetus to stay the course, even in a too-tight space. I’d have to say this audience was one of my most attentive, for which I take absolutely no credit—they had reason to want to hear the information, and the organizers knew that when they approached me with the topic.
• The audience brought it. And by “it,” I mean questions. Yes, this is a group of writers and reporters and folks who aren’t shy about asking people things in public settings. (One of the organizers nicely asked whether I’d allow questions during my presentation, and my reaction was, “Of course. How would we stop them?”) They had challenging questions for me, and no amount of jerry-rigged wiring was going to stop that from happening.
• The organizers are great team--and great turnaround artists. This group’s a close-knit network, and it showed last night. Several board members split up the tasks at hand and pitched in to figure out solutions, including bringing a projector and figuring out how to handle the patchwork of audio-visual equipment. As a speaker, if I’m going to run into problems, this is the group I want at my back.
• I take my own advice and prepare: I knew my material, and had developed a brief message—four points on which they could focus—that served as my outline. If push came to shove, I could speak without the slides. The message meant I wasn’t using a script, so who needed a lectern, anyway?
In Washington, I hang with a lot of professionals who are frequent speakers, meeting planners and event-throwers, and it’s common for folks to leave events like this one running down everything that went wrong and tsk-tsking about it. In this case, no one had the time or inclination to do that, least of all me. Participants hung around to ask questions and help with putting the room to rights, and the organizers took me out for a convivial dinner. People were calm, nice, flexible and willing to make it work—as opposed to panicky, complaining, regretful or anxious. And that’s what made this a sweet, not sour, experience for me.
The group—Science Writers in New York—plans to upload video of the presentation soon, and I’ll update this post when they do so you can see how we did under, er, adaptive conditions. Speakers, if they call you, accept the invitation. I'm especially grateful to the SWINY board members who came up with the topic, invited me, gathered a great crowd and made me feel at ease and at home.