If you’re a football fan, you probably remember Super Bowl 47 (or XLVII for you hardcore fans). The game was memorable for many reasons – brothers Jim and John Harbaugh coaching against one another; a tense and exciting finish; and, perhaps most memorable, a slight twist during the second half the game…the lights went out in the Louisiana Superdome for 34 minutes. Although highly embarrassing for the NFL, it didn’t cause fans to leave the game, or people to rush home from their Super Bowl parties.
It’s the Super Bowl, after all, our greatest unofficial holiday. With libations, food, and friends all around, we were willing to wait out a little delay, right? And for fans at the game who spent $500, $1000, or even $5,000 for a ticket, it would be a cold day in H….. Hawaii before they were going to leave.
What does the Super Bowl blackout have to do with you as a speaker? More than you may think. The NFL, in its premier event, has a captive audience that is going to wait out any delay or inconvenience. As a speaker, you don’t have that luxury. You have to provide value and respect your audience’s time.
This was illustrated to me during a product introduction meeting. The speaker arrived at 8:55, five minutes before his presentation was scheduled to start. Precisely at 9:00, without acknowledging us, he began to…adjust his computer to prepare his Power Point presentation. At 9:07 I heard him mumbling about “the IT department is going to hear about this.” At 9:15, he left the room to summon help from the office manager, and on it went.
Meanwhile, 15 audience members sat patiently, checking emails, chatting quietly, and…. writing his next blog post about the rudeness of keeping an audience waiting. I confess, I wasn’t so patient. As a presentation skills coach, I was irritated that we were being ignored, the presenter clearly didn’t care enough to arrive early and test the equipment, and he didn’t have a backup plan.
This experience reinforced a fundamental aspect of speaking and presenting…The most precious asset your audience has is time. If you do not respect their time, and treat it as more important than your own, you have lost the audience before you say one word. They may never tell you, but their irritation and frustration speaks louder than anything you have to say.
Technical glitches and unexpected interruptions are part of speaking, and always will be. While those can’t be prevented, lack of a contingent plan can be prevented. When you communicate difficulties to your audience, have a backup plan, and a backup plan to your backup plan, you are silently telling the audience that you respect them and their time. Unlike the speaker I mentioned above, they won’t walk out on you, as I did after 25 minutes and no end in sight.
No, you don’t have the drawing power of the Super Bowl. What you do have is the ability to create contingencies. Do this, and your audience will stay with you the next time the Lights Go Out.
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