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Handle Unexpected Situations on Stage During Your Keynote

5 Ways to Handle Unexpected Situations while Speaking on Stage

5 Ways to Handle Unexpected Situations while Speaking on Stage

Conversations are fun! Lectures? Not so much (unless you’re a nerd like me).


One reason why live speech is so much fun (and so valuable) is because the audience is invited to participate. It isn’t just a monologue – it’s an experience The audience is taking part, helping to create and shape the message as it goes.

Handle Unexpected Situations on Stage During Your Keynote

Handle Unexpected Situations on Stage During Your Keynote

This is also one reason why live speech is so scary! You spend all of this time preparing, but, who are you kidding? You don’t really know what’s going to happen once you get up there! A few unexpected situations can throw you for a loop. Add that to a case of stage fright and you immediately go into fight or flight mode, freezing on stage, (or you ramble for a bit without actually saying anything useful).


But, there is a way to avoid that! If you know me and my speech tips, you’ll know I’m big on preparation. (It’s allllll about the prep, baby!) Without it, you’re dead in the water. With it? Unstoppable!


In this post, you’ll find 5 tips on handling unexpected situations while speaking on stage so that you can keep control of the speech and make sure everyone has a positive experience and leaves your speech feeling empowered and motivated.


1. Create an example bank


You’ll likely get some questions that you aren’t expecting, or that you aren’t sure if you’ll have time to go into while speaking. Or, you might just get some questions on clarifying the ideas you already covered.


Either way, an example bank can help. I like to keep a number of examples on the bench, just in case the starting team doesn’t get the job done. These are examples that are clear and that I know well, that I can talk about with little preparation.


This way, when someone asks a question, I don’t have to search my brain for an example, it’s already there. It allows me to answer clearly and effectively, without a lot of pause time and without a lot of stumbling.


The best part? Taking a little time to prepare this bank makes your audience think that you are completely comfortable thinking on your feet, and really adds to your credibility and to their overall understanding of your material.


Anticipate questions ahead of time


If you have a workshop or keynote that you deliver regularly, you’ll start noticing that you get the same questions over and over. You can either start to incorporate those questions into your speech, or not. Either way, you’ll want to know what they are so that you have go to stories, examples and clear answers for them when they come up. But, how do you anticipate questions? If you have a lot of published content, you can start there. What are people asking you in your blog posts? In your live Q&A sessions? In your personal conversations? Start creating a question bank and have a clear, concise answer to those questions that you’re ready to share without stumbling or searching through your memory bank. You can even go a step further and link these questions to something in your example bank for a powerful answer at any time.


Have a back-up plan


Plans are great. But back-up plans are life savers! (Tweet it. You know you love it. 🙂


Sometimes, whatever you planned, just doesn’t work out for whatever reason. The speaker before you went long and now you have half the time. The audience isn’t cooperating and they’re not giving much back. The audience is too into it and they’re eating into your speaking time. You fell off the stage (ok, hopefully that doesn’t happen).


Whatever it is, things happen. And when you’re in a live situation, things happen all the time. Having a back-up plan will make you look as though you are thinking and speaking off the cuff, even though you had it planned all along.


How do you create a back-up plan? First, anticipate possible scenarios (a change in time is a big one, so is audience participation if your speech relies on that, and technology is always a wild card). Know what you’ll cut if you’re short. Or, what you’ll add if you’re given more time. Know what you’ll do if you have no audio or visual.


Example: If I suddenly have less time than I thought, I’ll have certain examples that I cut – never just slice right off the end. Instead, cut a little from each of your main points.


Another example:  If you’re using slides, know how to explain the slides with words if the slides suddenly aren’t available, or what to skip over entirely if it isn’t possible to explain it without the slide.


Know your material beyond what you’ve written


If you’ve poured all of your knowledge into your speech, you don’t have a lot of wriggle room. You can’t really answer questions or adjust accordingly.


But, luckily for you, you probably won’t be speaking on anything that you don’t know really, really well. But, there might be some examples or case studies that you don’t know a lot about right off the top of your head. To counteract that, take the time to know some other additional details about any of these examples. Even if that info doesn’t make it to the final cut, you can respond and expand on it if that’s what your audience wants, or if you need to add some time.


Prepare phrases that you’re comfortable with to regain control

Sometimes, an audience member will try to highjack your speech – either intentionally or not. They’ll over share, or they’ll ask too many questions. Although I’m all about audience participation, if I’m managing a group of 50, 100, or even just 10 people, I want everyone to have a positive experience. And, if someone is overstepping boundaries, it can take away from what everyone else gets out of the presentation.


So, I always have a plan for managing the audience when someone, or multiple someone’s start to take over. My favorite is “oh yeah! That reminds me…” and then change the subject to my next topic. Sometimes, I’ll have a story that bridges what they’re speaking about to the topic I’m talking about. Stories always help the transition seem more natural for everyone.


Your Turn! You might have some other tips for handling unexpected situations. Let me know in the comments below – what do you do as a speaker when things start to get out of control? Or, have you seen a speaker handle unexpected situations really well? Share in the comments below!

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About the Author Sandy Donovan

Sandy empowers the young and talented to increase their power and influence by improving their ability to be heard and be clear. She does this by providing access to rigorously tested research in the communication, psychology, and marketing fields.