Well that was awkward.
If you can’t stand to cringe do not watch this clip.
In it, Transformers director Michael Bay flees the stage quicker than Optimus Prime after his teleprompter fails in front of a live audience. A very public gaff.
And almost everyone’s greatest fear.
The public speaking fail.
Personally I found it physically painful to watch, as in addition to feeling awfully sorry for him, it transported me back to an auditorium four years ago when I was convinced my career was over after a similar professional meltdown.
I was asked to speak to the fresh grad recruits about the ‘market intelligence’ our desk was responsible for providing the other investment bankers. It was a last minute invitation but I was game. Talking about what I do every day, how hard can it be?
I showed up, with a couple of slides pulled from the shared drive and no notes to speak off, and stood up when they called my name.
I flicked through the slides and for about 2 minutes it was going well and then out of nowhere, I went completely blank.
There was nothing inside my head – no words, no thoughts, just complete darkness.
As I stood there, mouth agape, red faced, sweating, rifling around my brain for anything sensible to say, I noticed that the audience who were all but asleep one minute ago, were now on the edge of their seats, watching me like an episode of The Bachelor.
This was a car crash they wanted to see.
A colleague mercifully stepped in and took over, giving me a moment to re-group.
After 20 seconds, my thoughts were back, my head was clear. What the hell just happened?
Standing on the ropes, I gave my partner in the ring the indication that I was ready to tap back in. I commenced the talk.
And then it happened again.
The audience were now divided by those that found it now too painful to watch and those that found it too funny to look away.
So I did what any consummate professional what do in my situation.
I walked out.
Actually I ran.
All the way out of the building and in to the street. Almost getting hit by a red double decker bus, which at that moment would have felt like a blessing.
Even though this happened over 4 years ago, I still re-live it whenever I have to speak in public. The difference now is I go to great lengths to make sure itnever happens again.
And this is how…
5 Tips For Avoiding An Epic Public Speaking Fail
1. Know your subject. Avoid talking about topics you know nothing about. This seems like a no-brainer but sometimes we are called to speak on tricky subjects and just have to go with it. While it’s sometimes cool to ‘Fake It Till You Make It’, I’ve got my own rule for these situations, ‘If You Can’t Spell It – Don’t Sell It.
2. Be prepared. If you work in a high pressure job you probably don’t have the luxury of having days or even hours to prep for a speech. But even a short update to management about what your department has been up to can turn into career carnage without a couple of nifty bullet points on a Post It note to keep you on track
3. Respect your audience. Whether you are talking to a room full of CEO’s or a group of interns, knowing what turns your audience on and off is key. Think of the audience first and they will reward you handsomely.
4. Be genuine. It’s hard to go blank when you are speaking from the heart. Word.
5. Don’t run. The slides don’t work, the mic makes you sound like Fran Dresher and you just realised Dow Jones is not related to David Jones. However bad it gets, stay in the room. And whatever goes wrong, make a joke of it.
Remember they invited YOU to speak – Unless you have done a Kanye and stolen the stage from Taylor Swift, then your audience want to hear from you. And they want you to do well.
They are there to hear you speak and will respect you even more for turning chaos into comedy.