Speech preparation: important question "What do i do if..."
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Speech preparation: The important question of “What do i do if…”

Story #1: A few years ago, in July, one student organisation invited me to do public speaking training. Speech preparation means many things, but, first off, calling the organiser and discussing things, which I did. The organiser promised that the room was perfectly suitable for 20 people, that the video projector and the screen were also there. A dream come true! When I finally arrived about an hour earlier, I discovered it was an anteroom that could never fit as many as 20 people. So I had to follow plan B to do the training (…read on for what I actually did).

So, how to prepare a speech? Speech preparation is vital, and the more thoroughly you do it, the greater the chance that your presentation will work out well. Also, it is wise to ask yourself a question “what you would do if…”.

Instead of the dots, write down any issues that may occur and then think about them as well as possible solutions.

Today’s post highlights the potential issues and possible solutions.

Speech preparation question #1 “What do I do if I run out of time during presentation?”

Story #2: At a conference, I was scheduled to start at 16:25 instead of 16:00 as the speakers before me didn’t finish on time. According to the schedule, I had one hour for my presentation. The event, however, was ending at 17:00, according to the schedule. I asked the audience if they wanted the entire presentation or a 30-minute version. Of course, they wanted a shorter version. So, I had to leave half of my presentation out.

You’re in the middle of your presentation when you discover that there’s only 10 minutes left for your 20 minutes worth of material… Preparing for your presentation, put your topics, examples, stories, etc., in the order of priority and think about what you could leave out, if necessary.

The audience don’t realize that something has been left out.

I can almost assure you that the audience will never realize that you left something out. Well… if that’s not the core of your presentation. For example, you promised to talk about the fear of public speaking, but talked about everything else but the main subject. If you leave some of the less important things out or cover them briefly, you’ll be able to get the lost time back.

Question #2 “What do I do if I have a lot of time left?”

Story #3: I had to appear at a seminar, and my presentation was to begin at 15:00. I arrived an hour earlier, and the organiser couldn’t be happier. This was because the speakers before me finished earlier than planned. So he asked me if I could get started as soon as possible and take my time. All of a sudden, I had around 40 minutes of additional time on my hands. Since my speech preparation covered this scenario as well, it was easy as 1-2-3.

If you finish a little bit earlier, you win.

First of all, let’s make one thing clear. If you finish a little earlier than planned, you’ll be the hero in the eyes of the audience. The point is to finish “a little bit earlier”. When you finish a lot earlier, it can be troublesome both for the audience and the organisers.

Thus, when preparing for your presentation, be sure to add some additional topics (stories, examples, etc.) that you can use if you end up with some free time on your hands.

Question #3: “What do I do if a video projector does not work?”

Story #4: A few weeks ago, I had to do public speaking training in a beautiful manor. Arriving an hour earlier and getting the equipment ready, it turned out that the video projector wouldn’t work. I asked the organisers if there was a replacement available, but sadly, the presentation had to go on without the projector. Was it confusing? Not once. Were the audience confused? Or course, not. Why? Read on!

Remember that you are the main speaker, not your slides.

Always remember that you are the main speaker. If your presentation is ruined without a projector, something is very wrong. It means that the slide show is the core of your presentation, and you are just a tool.

So, during speech preparation, be sure to prepare decent notes, among other things, that should help you in similar situations. Showing slides is nice and cool, but once again – you are the main speaker, and you have to be able to do the entire presentation without having to show anything.

Question #4 “What do I do if the room is unsuitable for doing a presentation?”

Speech preparation question #4 "What do I do if the room is unsuitable for doing a presentation?"

Story #1 continues: Since the anteroom room wasn’t suitable for the training in any way, I suggested doing the presentation outdoors. The weather was fine, the sun was shining, and there wasn’t much wind. The organiser agreed immediately, and I started looking for the right place. Note that this was done without PowerPoint and the like. Again, I was the main speaker, not my slides!

Speech preparation pro tip: always arrive earlier!

If you are doing a presentation in a place you’ve never been to, arrive at least an hour earlier. This way, you can avoid a bunch of problems starting from setting up the equipment and ending with finding a better room or place.

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If it turns out that the room is not suitable for doing a presentation, think about whether anything can be done with the room in question. For example, rearranging, removing the furniture, etc. You can also ask the organiser if there’s an alternative room available.

Story #5: I had to do public speaking training for an institution, and the venue was a hotel with seminar rooms to rent. When I arrived, I found out the hotel had overbooked the seminar rooms, and we were given a double suite instead of a beautiful spacious seminar room. We were expecting 16 people… The suite was literally packed with tables, which left us with even less space. Since I arrived an hour earlier, I asked the hotel employees to remove the tables, somewhat rearranging the suite. If I had arrived about 30 minutes earlier, I would’ve been in trouble.

If it turns out nothing can be done, you can adapt to the situation and rather think about what you should do. However, if you arrive just before the start of your presentation, the change of situation may affect you, as a speaker, in a negative way.

Question #5 “What do I do if I get stuck during presentation?”

As described above, have proper notes prepared for such cases. During speech preparation, try to take notes that will cover you in all situations. Note that proper notes are the ones that give you an instant idea of what you wanted to say just looking at them. Bad notes are the ones that make you go “Meh? What did I even mean?”

Reload your brain after getting stuck.

Should it happen that the notes are not of much help, calm down and try to regain control of the situation. If that does not help, instead of frantically thinking about what you should’ve said, say something like: „Let us take a short break! Please highlight the main idea that you have remembered so far. Paul, do you have anything to say?“

This means that you will reload your brain instead of panicking. And while Paul is answering, you’ll be back on track in no time.

Speech preparation question #6 “What do I do if someone asks a question I cannot answer?”

Story #6: One popular basketball referee once attended one of my classes. Obviously, a man who knows a lot about basketball rules. I asked him if there was any question about basketball rules he didn’t know the answer to. He started laughing and added that his friends were constantly teasing him, looking for tricky questions and testing whether he knew the answers to them… which he often didn’t.

You don’t have to know the answers to all questions.

First, remember that you don’t have all the answers. And you don’t have to know all the answers.  But if you cannot answer any question – you’re in trouble.

If you cannot answer a question, acknowledge it and ask if there’s anyone in the audience who can. If not, suggest finding out the answer and letting the person know, but you have to keep your promise!

However, you can prepare for answering questions as well. For example, during speech preparation, give your family member or friend (who doesn’t know anything about the subject) an overview of what you’ll be talking about. Now, ask your friend to ask any questions they might think of. Believe me, you will get a lot of food for thought out of that exercise.

If you’ve done more than one presentation on the subject, you may have noticed that some questions are asked more frequently. In this case, it’s worth thinking about answering these questions in your presentation.

Final words: Speech preparation and the question of “what you do if…”

As you can see, the examples above are just some of the questions you can ask yourself during speech preparation. Think of all the possible what-ifs and put them down. This is a powerful tool that will help you in many tricky situations. The more questions you ask yourself and answer, the more difficult it will be to surprise you in any way.

Related questions

What is audience analysis? Audience analysis gives you the opportunity to get as much information about the background of your listeners as possible. Using this information, you can prepare your message so that it builds on the interests, needs, and expectations of your listeners. (full article here)

How many people are afraid of public speaking? The 2001 Gallup study (USA) revealed that 40% of people were afraid of public speaking. Tomas Fumark’s study of 2000 highlighted that the fear of public speaking prevailed in 77.1% of the people suffering from social anxiety disorder. Of 2,000 study participants, 24% of the respondents indicated that stage fright was an issue.

What is a persuasive speech? The main objective of a persuasive speech is to make your listeners do what you want them to do. For example, „buy my product“, „vote for me“, „believe what I’m talking about“, and so on. (full article here)

What is stage fright? Stage fright is a specific communication-based anxiety resulting in a person experiencing physiological excitement, negative feelings, or certain behavioural responses to the actual or expected act of public speaking

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Who is Janek Tuttar?

My name is Janek Tuttar, and I am the founder and author of Speak and Conquer website.

I have been teaching public speaking at Estonian Entrepreneurship University of Applied Sciences

Here, I am sharing the wisdom of how to cope in different public speaking situations.

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Janek Tuttar

Hi! My name is Janek Tuttar, and I am the founder and author of SpeakAndConquer.com.

I have been teaching and blogging about public speaking since spring 2007. Here, I am sharing the wisdom of how to cope in different public speaking situations.

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