Ep #72: The Time I Blew it Before I Even Started My Talk

by | Podcast

My heart was racing as kind people in the audience dug through their laptop bags, trying to find an adapter we needed to hook up my laptop. This had never happened before and I was at a loss for what to do to stop the mayhem. 

“It’s really fine,” I said. “I don’t need my slides at all.”

But this was a tech company and by gohd, they were going to find the right tech to hook us up. 

The fact was, I should have had the adapter in my own bag. But I didn’t. I had misunderstood a communication with my contact at the site and hadn’t planned for a backup, just in case.

I should have. And now, we were all paying the wire-and-adapter-flinging price. 

Then it got worse. 

Once we found a solution to the tech snafu, my contact used my introduction as an opportunity to talk about what NOT to do when you have a speaking gig… (listen in, I share the whole story in the podcast below). 

Anything can happen when you’re speaking, so it's always good to think ahead and prepare as best you can. 

But what happens when things go wrong anyway? 

How do you recover when technology fails?  Or worse, when your own planning fails?

How do you recover the audience’s attention and trust to deliver your heart-centered and life changing message?

In this episode, I'm sharing about a time I blew it before I even started talking and how I managed to recover the audience’s trust even in the face of straight-up throw-her-under-the-bus criticism.

My hope is that you’ll learn from my mistakes – and also see that you CAN recover completely, too!

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • My personal story of the time a talk I gave went wrong… and how I recovered
  • Why bringing your own accessories to your talks is of utmost importance (and can save you from disaster)
  • How you can be of service to your audience regardless of whatever's going on in this moment
  • How to handle public criticism when a talk goes off the rails and how not let it deter you from spreading your message

Listen to the Full Episode:

Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to The Thought Leadership School Podcast. If you're on a mission to make a difference in the world with your message, you are in the right place. I'm Michelle Barry Franco and I'm thrilled that you're here. Hello. Hello. My Thought Leader friends. How are you? So it story time today, I'm going to tell you a story, but of course it's a story with a message and it's a message that I hope will help you if you ever get into a tricky situation in one of your speaking opportunities. I'm traveling in DC right now, staying in Georgetown, which means I'm surrounded by this low hum of horns honking and trucks clinking by and the refrigerator in my hotel suite humming really loud. So if you hear this, you know background noise, that's unusual. That's why it's really fun to be in the heart of Georgetown.

I come here every month for two very different kinds of speaking events and if I'm honest about it, I still get pretty nervous about one of them in particular because it's not the kind of speaking that I normally do. It's more of an MC host role and I have done some, but just not very much of that. And of course it's recorded and sent out to thousands of people. So my cute, beautiful brain just goes nutso with it. And so I have to use all the same memories, reminders for myself that I share with my clients. Like, yeah, of course your brain's doing that. Your brain's always trying to save your life. It doesn't always understand what is life threatening, but it's always trying to save your life. But this is different than I've done before. And so I understand why my brain's on alert.

I'm supposed to do things like keep us on track and remember to hit a bunch of specific aspects of the run of show for this evening event that I host and do this without notes. My friends, you see, I've got all these stories around it, so I get better each month. But it's funny just to notice what comes up in me. I also was thinking today, this morning on my walk, how wonderful it is to be willing to feel anything and it feels like this profound, deeper realization that I had this morning. So I'm going to do a whole nother podcast episode about being willing to feel anything, but I just want to put that in there as you hear the story that I'm about to tell you because that's really I think at the heart of what helps me. And so many of my clients continue to get out there and get in front of a bunch of people, bear our hearts and souls and expertise knowing that not everybody's love what we're doing or the way we're doing it.

So tonight I will show up and I will be even better than last month and I'm really excited. I actually get to spend time with these wonderful, brilliant people helping them share their own stories and expertise. So it's a very cool experience. Speaking of very cool experiences from a learning perspective, but actually it all turned out alright in the end. Not to give away the punchline, but I want to tell you this story as promised, and I think there's going to be a little lesson in here for you too. So let's just see where we land, shall we? So yesterday I'm packing up my items to head over to my client's office for our first event. I have this new fancy electronic accessories kit bag thing. You know, it's like a speaker kit. I saw a cool speaker at NSA, the national speakers association when I went to the conference this year.

And she had this cool kit that had a little pocket for her clicker remote that had all the dongles she needed and I don't know, headphones and chords for recharging things and all of it, right? And I have absolutely accumulated many of those over the years. So I got myself this little kit, I put everything in there and I'm feeling super official. And the fact is, it's really handy. But as I'm gathering up my things, including the accessories I need for the event yesterday, I can't find my new MacBook, USBC to connect my laptop to a monitor. By the way, whoever said that, the USBC would soon be the universal connection was either a liar or just super optimistic because all it feels like to me, I just have to remember every dongle ever need it ever possibly needed anywhere. Having this new MacBook Pro that only has that USBC connection.

Anyway, this connector, this USBC connector for my laptop to a monitor is gone and I panic because the last time this happened at a speaking gig, I got totally thrown under the bus, maybe rightfully in a big way before I even started my speaking event. So this was a number of years ago and I was brought in to do a sort of mini training. I was at both inspirational, but there was definitely a training component to it and I actually was flying directly from Hawaii, not to brag, it was kind of amazing. This isn't how it always goes by the way, but it just so happened we were going to be finishing up our family vacation. In fact, I was leaving a day early to get to this speaking event on time and I realized that I had forgotten my connector and this was right after these map books came out and I didn't have my connector with me.

And so I wrote a note to my contact at the speaking event and you know, checked in on a bunch of things. Do you have all of these supplies, you know, markers and a big PostIt note paper that we can stick on the wall after we write on an easel kind of thing. And I asked, do you have either a dongle for a MacBook Pro or will I be using someone else's computer on site, which a lot of companies have me do, especially if they have really high security inside their building or inside their company. They will want me to submit my file some other way and or bring them on an external drive and then they run it through, I don't know, some kind of tech thing and we do it from their computer. So she writes back and said, we have everything here that you need.

See you soon. And you know, this is a learning for me. And this was even after you know, a number of years being a speaker, when somebody writes back to you that quickly, you usually want to do a little extra check-in. I think she was just hurrying, juggling a lot of things at once and maybe hadn't read every single one of my bullet points, but I was at, my plane got delayed anyway, it doesn't matter, but all kinds of things happen where my mind too was very busy and I wasn't thinking super clearly about that response. So I assumed that everything was there and it was fine and I didn't need to go by myself and other dongle, which is exactly what I would have done, which is exactly what I would do now, by the way. Anyway, so I show up there and they want to use my computer, which is totally not what I had expected and I didn't have my dongle and they didn't have any of these dongles by the way.

Is that the technical word? Because it's such a fascinating word. Anyway, so they didn't have any dongles. I mean literally we spent the whole room full of people and it was a jam packed room. It wasn't a big enough room for the number of people they had brought in all the people from all over the world into their company, all of their remote employees. And it's not a huge, huge company. Maybe there were, I don't know, there might've been 60 people inside the room. Not everybody came to the public speaking training, but all the people in sales and in, you know, sales support and leadership, that kind of thing were in the room. So it was maybe 50 60 people in the room. Everyone's digging through their bags, I guess, thinking maybe they'll find something that will work, but nobody had it and nobody had a computer I could even use.

And of course I had done all the backup things. I had put my, and these are the things you want to do, right? I had my slides up on SlideShare, I had my slides up on a variety of different places so we could bring it through, but I couldn't use my computer because we couldn't connect it to the projector. So finally somebody finds a computer, they connected to the projector and my contact goes to the front of the room to introduce me. But before he introduces me, he says, now everybody pay attention because what you've just seen is exactly what you don't want to happen. You know, when you're a pro, you bring all the things you need. And then he tells a story about a guy on their team by name, a guy on their team who went to an event as the speaker and didn't bring his remote clicker.

And he was saying to them, can you believe that he didn't have a remote? Every pro speaker presenter has their clicker with them. And of course I'm behind him waiting for my introduction, knowing that I am right now being highlighted. As an example of exactly what not to do, about the very thing that I'm going to teach them about. And I also know that I don't have my clicker. And again, I know that this might, in retrospect, this all seems crazy, I should know these things, but honestly it had never come up before. I had brought my clicker to a few things to a variety of speaking events. And most of the time they have a whole system including their own clicker. That is not the case. I've learned since many smaller companies don't, that I just hadn't had this experience before. So it's kind of embarrassing to tell you, but I'm here to tell you the truth so that you can learn from my experiences.

Anyway, so then he goes on to introduce me really quite beautifully, and now we're, you know, introducing your public speaking expert, Michelle Barry Franco, who's going to teach you about presentation skills. So I come to the front of the room and of course I feel like I have a lot of damage control to do, but you know, I caused it if I had my dongle, he doesn't even know yet that I don't have my clicker. So I come to the front of the room, the room is small enough that I really don't, you know, I'm right there next to my computer pushing the arrow wouldn't have been a big deal, but he goes off and I think he left the room at that time. But I hold the microphone close to my mouth and I say, yo, I don't have my own remote clicker. Everybody laughs.

And I said, you know, it's so true that this is not what you want to do. And you know, I did. I just got back from Hawaii. Sorry, I know play me the tiny violin or however that saying goes. And I didn't bring these supplies and I misunderstood the way the setup is here. I said something like that. I said, but this reiterates for me and is a great demonstration for you of the situation that you don't want to be in. The good news is whether my slides came up today or not. You will learn just as much about public speaking because I don't need those slides to share with you what I'm going to share with you today and to help you become the amazing, the next level presenter that I know that you're ready to be. Those slides are my assistant so I could do this without them and whether I have a clicker or not, we would move through these slides.

Just fine seamlessly. That's what I want to talk with you about today. How do you show up as a beautiful human being in service full of whatever imperfections. We all have minor shining bright here this morning and serve this audience because that is what it's about. So I think I recovered okay and we definitely throughout the rest of the day got some really cool stuff done. I got amazing feedback from people in the room, but it was a really interesting, and I have to say to this date, the most difficult start to one of my speaking events that I've had so far, and while I wouldn't wish it on anyone, there are absolutely things that you can do to recover from something like this. So that's what I want to talk about with the rest of our time together. How do you recover from someone basically saying anyone who doesn't bring their own dongles is an amateur or anything else that happens.

Because what I'm going to share with you applies to pretty much any time anything goes awry with your speaking. Number one, I needed to remember in that moment that I wasn't there to be perfect or that even being amazing for them wasn't my primary goal. That doesn't mean I don't want to be amazing. I do. I really want them to be delighted that they spent that time with me, but ultimately I was there to serve and the fact is like humor helps in this situation. Owning it, just don't try to pretend it didn't happen. Don't try to brush it under the rug, just use a little humor. Self-deprecating works great. And then don't throw anyone else under the bus for goodness sake. So for example, again, full responsibility. I should have had those things. We would never be in this situation. There was a little part of my brain that was like, but I asked about all this and she said it was okay, but that does not make you look good, right?

To throw this wonderful administrative assistant who was helping with so many things and probably juggling so many responsibilities under the bus, just to try to make myself feel better was definitely not gonna work even if it did occur to me. So that was the first thing, just remembering that I'm not there to be perfect or even amazing. I'm just there to serve. The second thing that I needed to do was get back to business quickly and really recover my credibility by delivering on the promise of this session. I don't know if you ever saw, I have a video, see if I can find it on Lincoln. I think I tell about this story in that video. I tell a couple stories in this video, but I know I've talked to him a few times about the time I was standing in front of the CEO of the company in a training.

So I'm training at every level inside this company and I'm literally happen to be straight faced standing in front of the CEO as I'm explaining this concept in a new way. I had decided in my lovely, beautiful brain earlier than I thought I had an even better way to explain this particular concept. And so I started down this path of explaining it. I lost myself like it was new and I thought I had it figured out, but I had never said it out loud. This is your lesson. Always say stuff out loud and hear yourself say it. Practicing in your brain isn't even close to the same as saying things out loud into the space of a room, even if you don't have an audience. So anyway, I'm there in front of the CEO, totally lost in my words. I seriously am probably stringing words together that do not make any sense and I just had to stop and say, okay, I am clearly lost in this.

I obviously don't know how to explain this concept in this new way. I thought I had a better way to explain it, but it's not working. So let me go back to the way that I normally talk about this and I did that and Oh yeah. I mean, I felt like running from that room, it was humiliating. My face had to be totally red. It took me a long time physiologically to recover. Even as I did go back to an explanation that was familiar to me, that was really hard and I really did want to run, I'm not kidding when I say that, but here's the first thing. Do not run. Just do not run. Stay, stay present. Remember, if you're willing to feel anything, then you can move through this and you'll, you'll forever have that knowing. You'll forever have that experience. So yeah, I remember that time I made it through what felt like I would die.

I stayed. And actually that same CEO who smiled a little, what is the right word? Pitifully no supportively but kinda like whooo. She hired me again multiple times for private coaching. So I don't know exactly what combination of things made that work, but I have to think that it was a little bit of that. Like, Hey, she knows she gets up in front of people all the time. We don't do this perfectly. It's knowing how to move through whatever happens that counts. Okay. So that was the second thing I did. I got back to business quickly and I recovered my credibility by delivering on my promise and really even more important than recovering my own credibility, which is important, but even more important, I got back to serving them in the way that I had promised. So the third thing I did is I used this experience in this moment as a teaching moment, even at my own expense.

Okay. So I may have cleverly suggested that I thought we had covered all the bases when I was, you know, when I first got up there in front of the room talking about what had happened, not having my dongle and not having my remote clicker and you know, said something like, but maybe I misunderstood things, but it really was part of a lesson saying to them, there are times when we rush through and we think we understand the circumstances, but it is our job as presenters and speakers to make sure that we're clear on what is actually available as far as tech, what the room will be like, ask for things to be set up a certain way. We need to ask questions, make sure we have clear and specific answers to those questions. That's part of our job. And I did apologize to my client afterwards, by the way.

I promised it would never happen again. We're still in a great relationship. So it all did actually work out in the end. And now I get to tell you this story, right? And the truth is these kinds of things are going to happen when you're out there continually putting yourself in front of new audiences, often sharing either new ideas or new angles on new ideas. It's guaranteed that things that you don't expect are going to happen. People are going to ask you questions. You don't know how to answer. Yeah, there's going to be a super loud hammering noise right outside the door. This happened to me, it recently, probably about three weeks ago at an event and finally, you know, you can only go so long with just ignoring these kinds of things. Of course, I didn't cause it, it was inside their building, but we have to stop and acknowledge these things.

Does anybody know what that is? And then they said, Oh, they're working on the room. So I make a quick shift of plan, right? Yelling over the sound isn't going to work. How can I be of service to this audience with whatever's going on in this moment? Anything can happen when you're speaking anything. It is good to think ahead, anticipate the best you can, but just know the most important thing is how you handle it. You are a steward of your audience's experience. That's our job as a speaker and especially as a facilitator. They are there to learn, to be inspired and hopefully have a meaningful insight of some kind that will change their lives in a way that matters to them. So here's the moral of this story. Bring your accessories, all of them, no matter what they tell you on the other side, and if you have a MacBook Pro, buy extra dongles, because I didn't have mine yesterday because it fell out in the airplane when I opened my fancy speaker kit. But if something happens and you drop your dongle on the airplane or whatever, don't beat yourself up. Even if someone publicly calls you out on it, you have an incredible gift for changing people's lives with your words. Call on that gift and bring it full heart. The rest will fall away because my friend, you really were made for this. You know how I know that? Because you know that now, get out there, share your message and whatever messy glory you've got, your people are waiting for you. See you next week. I already can't wait.

Thanks so much for being here with me on The Thought Leadership School Podcast. If you want specific and actionable guidance on how to become a recognized leader in your industry, you can download a free copy of my book. Beyond Applause: Make a Meaningful Difference Through Transformational Speaking at speaksoitmatters.com/freebook.



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