Practical Public Speaking Tips – How to Think on Your Feet When Crazy Things Happen (and They Will)

If you are a public speaker, you know you have to be able to think on your feet. You want to be prepared to respond well when things go wrong, and they will.

An example

Years ago I was speaking at a conference in Orlando in an after lunch session. About 3 minutes into my talk a woman on the back row began to choke. I went rushing back there to help as did several people.

The strange thing was that her husband was sitting next to her, calm as could be, just gently rubbing her back. I’m thinking, “Dude, wake up! Your wife is choking!”

Turns out she had some kind of swallowing disorder and something she ate at lunch had triggered the difficulty.

So I am walking back up to the front of the room thinking “How in the world am I going to shift the mood of this room again?”

So I climbed back on stage and said two things:

First I had the audience give her applause for surviving. And then I said, “That is kinda strange, you know. Most people wait until the end of my talks to get all choked up.”

Got a good laugh, shifted the mood of the audience, and I went on with my talk.

Thinking on your feet

How did I know how to do that? How could I have known someone might someday choke in my audience?

By preparing for things that might go wrong that you can predict.

One of the many things I learned from my speaking mentor Tom Antion is to have ready made responses prepared for the things you can predict may happen.

Here are a couple of examples:

When someone’s cell phone rings loudly in the audience: “If that’s my mom, tell her I’m busy and will call her back.”

When there is a massive feedback whine in the speakers: “Now, for those of you who can still hear……”

By being prepared for what you can predict might happen, you learn to be prepared for what you cannot predict might happen in public speaking.

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