Guide on the Side – Expect the Unexpected

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O’Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries’ highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute’s programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms “Life in Progress,” which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters Internationaland is active with the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her “free” time to various non-profit and civic activities. Always open to new ideas, Marie can be reached at: [email protected].

In life as well as in presentations, surprises happen. Whether they are funny (ha-ha) or funny (oh-oh) is your call. You never know for sure what will happen no matter how carefully you plan. Events that seem like a fiasco as they occur and will later become a source of amusement. Over the years I have experienced a variety of “fiasco-to-fun” incidents on the way to the forum. Perhaps these sound familiar:

  • The roof leaked and the ceiling two floors down dripped erratically.
  • Birds were flying inside the conference room.
  • Boisterous Marines celebrated a reunion in an adjacent room.
  • The Institute was “bumped” because the President of the United States was coming.
  • Hotel “urchins” were discovered pilfering the AALL registration bags.

Bad things happen to the best presenters and program planners no matter what precautions they take. How you react is what people will remember. Smile even though you feel like strangling someone. Keep your cool and sense of humor. Make the best of the situation. Acknowledge that some things are totally out of your control–like building evacuations due to fire drills and bomb threats.

Speaker Related Situations and Possible Solutions

The speaker does not show or is late.

  • Unless this is a death in the family situation, ask the speaker to send a copy of the planned speech for distribution to the audience.
  • Ask the speakers who are present if they can speak longer.
  • Get permission from the audience to delay or change the order of speakers.
  • Lead a discussion with the audience on the topic–form of needs assessments.

You are a speaker and come down with laryngitis.

This is a tough one. Sometimes home or doctor prescribed remedies will enable you to “croak” through. Once I took off to a program in Nashville with absolutely no voice. I had to check in at the hotel by giving the clerk a note. Fortunately the next day when my speech was scheduled, my voice came back.

The panelist before you uses up most of your time.

  • Meet with the other panelists beforehand and ask the moderator to signal when time is up. Novice panelists may pay no heed.
  • Be prepared to compress your remarks.
  • Offer to meet with the audience after the program or let them know how to reach you for more information.
  • Come prepared with a stand-alone handout.

The panelist before you begins talking about your topic.

Interrupt and remind the panelist this is your territory. Panels are often mine fields.

At the last minute you are told that you will have 10 minutes to speak instead of 45 minutes you were told initially or vice versa.

Ten minutes is plenty of time to get your main points across. You should always be ready to “shrink” your speech. You can “stretch” a speech to fill more time a questions and answer session or a discussion.

You expect an audience of about 15 and bring 20 handouts. You arrive to find 50 people in the audience.

Get the program moderator to run off more copies or take business cards and offer to send the audience handouts.

A heckler in the audience starts making nasty remarks and asking antagonistic questions.

Respond non-defensively. Remain calm. Show respect. Listen. Acknowledge the person. Agree with any truth in the comments. If the heckler persists, suggest that the two of you meet after the presentation for a private discussion of these issues.

A group of people in the audience start a noisy conversation while you are speaking.

Stop speaking. The silence will get their attention. Ask them if they want to share.

Your introducer completely distorts what you are going to talk about.

Turn it into a joke and make the correction.

You loose your train of thought in mid-sentence.

Pause and hope the train comes into the station. If not ask the audience if has ever happened to them and continue. If the thought returns later, mention it.

You allow 15 minutes at the end for questions and answers but there are no questions.

Prime the pump with a question of your own “Some one asked me earlier what to do if…” or ask a friend in the audience to share an experience you know she has had. Better yet before you go on arrange for several questions.

Your throat dries out and you start coughing.

Always make certain you have water and a cough drop in your pocket.

A novice speaker on your program begins but is terrified and cannot continue the presentation.

As moderator, take over. Thank the speaker and go on with the program. After the program, counsel the novice to get some non-threatening speaking experience such as Toastmasters immediately so this incomplete experience does not become permanent speaking avoidance.

As the speaker you can see the buffet set up in the back up the room. Midway in your speech you see a homeless person loading the food in a big sack.

“Hello back there. Can we help you?” This will cause the audience to turn around and your trouble shooter will take action to alert the hotel staff.

You arrive early, set up your equipment, create a visual on the grease board, and put out the handouts. You go to the rest room and when you return everything is gone.

Once you set up a room, do not leave it unattended. If you are without backup leave a “Do Not Disturb” sign with time, date and your name on the door.

Someone in the audience or panel faints or has some other medical emergency.

Call a time out while your designated trouble shooter goes for aid.

The power suddenly goes off in the middle of your presentation throwing the room into dimness and making the equipment you are using for your slides in operable.

See above and be prepared to deliver your presentation in the dark without slides.

You are doing a full day seminar. Your notes and handouts are in the luggage you checked at the airport. When you arrive, it appears your luggage went to another city.

Never check the luggage with your notes or the master for your handouts in it. Corollary: Never let the hotel transfer your luggage from one room to a new room. They too can lose it for you.

The room is too large and the audience sits in the back rows.

Move the podium or speaker’s table to the back of the room.

Special Problems of Speaking Outside

Try to avoid presentations in the great outdoors or keep them short. Even with a microphone the sound drifts away and nature is anything but quiet. There may be wind, rain, thunder, lightning, flies, bees, mosquitoes, dogs chasing each other, and swooping birds. It is likely to be too hot or cold. Your notes may fly into the barbecue pit.

Facilities Related Situations

Get noise issues in the contract when dealing with restaurants, hotels and conference centers. If there is unacceptable noise, there will be a penalty. Find out what is scheduled before and after in your room and the rooms adjacent. Know how and who to contact when there is a problem. Bring the contract to the program as some hotels have rapid turnover and will disclaim all knowledge of previous arrangements. Get to the room at least an hour earlier to discover issues that require attention.

Many problems related to facilities can be handled by a designated trouble shooter. Always have at least one trouble shooter to handle problems such as:

  • The room is too small. The temperature needs adjustment. There is no ventilation. The room is set up improperly or essential equipment is missing or malfunctioning.
  • All is going well with your all day program when suddenly on the other side of the temporary wall a full size dance orchestra with amplification begins warming up enveloping your room with the sound of music.
  • You arrive and the room is occupied by another group and they show no signs of leaving. You are speaking when suddenly another group of people arrive and clearly did not expect the room to be occupied.

The cardinal rules on facilities (whether internal or external to your organization) are:

  • Get there early
  • Check out the sound system
  • Test the audiovisual equipment
  • Check the location and height of the podium or lectern
  • Locate the light switches and settings
  • Have a designated trouble shooter
  • Know how to summon the facility manager

When the unexpected happens even after your “flight check,” remember if it is a choice between laughing and crying, the audience will be more comfortable with laughter–and so will you in retrospect.

Posted in: Guide on the Side, Presentation Skills