When you step on stage, there are going to be times when things go awry, and challenge your confidence. You need to be ready.

How To Overcome Speech Obstacles

I believe that by knowing about potential problems and learning how to handle them, you will be ready in case they happen to you.

1. What to do when your PowerPoint© doesn’t work?

I do not recommend using PowerPoint© for your presentation unless you have at least 90 minutes to speak, you are in your own room, and can control the environment. Many speakers feel Powerpoint© is necessary. Sometimes it is. Just know that you may be setting yourself up for complications and technical problems.

Let’s imagine this scenario: You are going to speak on someone else’s stage. You’ve asked them if there’s going to be a projector. They say yes, so you bring your well-developed presentation on your flash drive. Before your speech, you plug it in their computer and—all of a sudden—it doesn’t work.

It’s true that when you bring a flash drive, you’ll have more luck with things working unless of course your flash drive is for a PC and their projector is for a Mac, or vice versa. Some people will bring their own computer to avoid this only to find the projector is not compatible.

This happened to one of my speakers. It took 30 minutes and five people rallying around before he could actually start his presentation. It was because of an incompatibility with the projector. When under the gun with five or six gurus trying to fix the problem, with an audience waiting, and a speaker sweating, it doesn’t make for a nice, happy, controlled event. This particular speaker was adamant about using PowerPoint©. He could not go on without it. Don’t let that happen to you.

You can go on without it.

I was in a multi-speaker situation and had a PowerPoint© incompatibility problem right at the beginning of my presentation. I didn’t let it stop me. I knew my material. I started my speech without my slides. After 20 minutes the technical staff fixed the problem. I was almost disappointed because when you don’t use PowerPoint©, you can connect with your audience at a deeper level.

In this situation, I kept my cool because I am not my PowerPoint© and PowerPoint© is not my presentation. And neither is it yours. You are the presentation. Never forget that. You are the speaker. You are the star!

If you’re selling from the stage and you need to show before and after pictures or statistics, it might make sense for you to use PowerPoint©. However, most of the time you’re just setting yourself up for another level of something going wrong. Other times, PowerPoint© is not a fit. It might not fit the venue, the situation or the number of people. Be ready for that. Remember, you are the presentation.

A similar situation occurred when I was speaking on a large stage with a big screen for my PowerPoint©. The problem was that there were only 15 people in the audience. It would be ridiculous for me to show my PowerPoint© slides on a huge screen. I trashed my PowerPoint© presentation that day. I jotted down some quick notes and, since it was an intimate group, I stood on the floor with the audience. I was able to build rapid rapport and connect with each member of the audience.

How do you keep your speech from going up in flames if your PowerPoint© doesn’t work? Keep going. The show must go on. Don’t depend on PowerPoint©. When you know your material, you can connect to your audience, and deliver a great speech.

2. What do you do when your shoe gets caught on the stage?

 This might not be a problem for men, but for women, it can be a real problem. I’ve seen it happen to women who wear skinny high heels. One gal walked right out of her shoes and decided to give her entire presentation barefoot. I don’t think it helped her sales any and it certainly didn’t help with her professionalism.

Ladies, if you feel your heel is getting stuck on the stage, the best way to handle it is to make a simple joke about it, take your heel out of the hole, and then ask for somebody to come and tape the stage. Do not continue your entire presentation with your foot caught or worrying about getting it caught on the stage.

That’s why I suggest that when you are the speaker, arrive early to the venue. Many stages are put together in blocks of four or five pieces that fit together. A really good hotel will tape the seams, but don’t take that for granted. When you come early, check out the stage and make sure the hotel taped the seams before your presentation.

3. What do you do if there is a heckler in the room?

Hecklers come in all shapes and sizes.

A heckler can be someone who is over-enthusiastic and always wants to participate, who always wants to answer your questions, and who always wants to be that over-achiever and not let anyone else participate.

A heckler also can be someone who is negative, who wants to challenge your knowledge, and who asks questions to annoy you.

Another form of a heckler is the know-it-all; someone who is agreeing with you, but at the same time is over-sharing his or her knowledge on the same subject.

The best way to handle a heckler is to diffuse their efforts. Be sure to do it in a way that is not antagonistic. Diffuse them in such a way that puts them at ease or puts them at bay for the time being.

One reason you want to gently put a heckler in their place is because they are disrespectful to you and your audience. Believe it or not, your audience will be very upset if you as the speaker let a heckler continue to disrupt your presentation. Your audience won’t say anything, but they do want you to say something and get control of that individual.

For instance, if someone is a know-it-all and they continue to talk aloud, you simply acknowledge them. They want to be acknowledged. Anyone who continually raises their hand, always wants to participate and is overactive simply wants attention. Recognize that.

Say to them, “it sounds like you have a lot of experience in this area. I’m going to talk about that a little later, so when the time comes, would it be alright if I call on you?”

They’re going to nod and be grateful, and then you never call on them throughout the rest of your speech. Just let it go. You diffused it. If they come up to you afterwards, just say, “Oh, I apologize. I forgot, what was it that you wanted to share?” or “I’m sorry I didn’t get to it; I just ran out of time, what was it you wanted to share?” Be as honest or truthful as you can be. It’s okay. You’re not on stage anymore. Remember: your audience is expecting you to take control of the situation for their sake.

An overachiever is one of those hecklers who wants to participate in everything or any time you ask for a volunteer, they run up to the stage and push others aside. You simply diffuse the situation by complimenting them for being the active person they are.

Say to them, “Right now I want to call on someone who hasn’t had a chance to come up here.” If it’s a guy, say, “Let’s hear from a woman.” That way he no longer qualifies. You diffuse it by asking for a participant that is out of that person’s league. You can also say, “I want to save your energy and keep you for the end of my talk.” Maybe you use them to collect the business cards for your raffle or another task where you need their energy, either way the situation has been diffused.

4. What happens when you ask a question, and no one responds?

This might happen when you are in the middle of your talk and have asked people to raise their hands in answer to a question. If they are not raising their hands, either the question you asked isn’t clear or it might be too complicated. If you’re asking a very detailed, intellectual question, you might want to make it more general.

For example, if you were asking what kind of relationship causes people not to communicate, it might sound too complicated and so they won’t answer. Instead, say, “How many of you want a good relationship?” Simplify and generalize. If your audience is not responding to your question, perhaps they are embarrassed to answer. For instance, if you ask, “How many of you have claimed bankruptcy?” Your audience will probably not respond. Always keep your questions simple and positive.

When you use enrolling questions as an attention grabber to begin your speech and no one raises their hand, they probably don’t know what to do. They are not sure whether you want them to raise their hand or not. Always raise your own hand when you ask an enrolling question, such as, “How many of you want new clients?” Then, raise your other hand. “How many of you not only want new clients, but want a ton of clients?” You’re showing them what you want them to do. If they still don’t raise their hands, just say “by a show of hands” and they will raise their hands.

5. What do you do when someone talks on a cell phone during your presentation?

This is quite common nowadays. You’ll be speaking and see people texting, Facebooking, or checking their email. This happened to me when I was speaking for a real estate group on the ship Queen Mary. Because it’s a ship, the meeting rooms are long and narrow. It’s not ideal for speaking. I had to walk around pillars and through the audience with a microphone so they could see and hear me.

A young girl was talking on her cell phone while I was speaking. Talking! I jokingly made a comment about her being on the phone. I said, “That call better be for me and it better be making us both a ton of money.” I guess she didn’t like being pointed out. Everyone else thought I had handled it very well, but she began giving me dirty looks. I said, “It’s okay, honey. I was just having fun with you.” I diffused the situation immediately. I never called out an audience member who was on the phone again. Not even as a joke.

Always stay on top of the situation. Never get into an altercation with an audience member. Keep it always positive. Diffuse. Diffuse. Diffuse.

One time I was speaking at a high school business academy. In the front row were a girl and boy wearing earbuds, listening to music while I was speaking. I said, “Hey, what are you listening to? I hope it’s good and better than I am.” Since they were students, I asked them to take their earbuds out. I told them that their music would be there later, but that I would only be there once and my message would only be said once, and could they please do me the courtesy to listen. They did.

I acknowledged it, diffused it, and, in that case, asked them to stop.

6. What do you do when people are talking during your speech?

This happened to me when I was on a multi-speaker stage at a four-day event in Las Vegas. I shared the stage with some powerful speakers like Tommy Hopkins, Marshall Silver, Bill Walsh, Bernie Dorman, Larry Benet and the list goes on and on. (Yes, mostly men, ladies, because they are dominating the stage these days.)

When it was my time to speak, my speaking spot had been changed. It had been cut in half because every speaker in town wanted to speak. I finally got up on stage at 6 o’clock. All of a sudden I hear this commotion. I’m into my personal story so I’m only about 5 minutes into my speech.

I stopped speaking. Normally, the way to get somebody to stop talking is for you to stop talking. It usually works like a charm. They look up because it’s quiet and you smile to diffuse. It’s a positive response, you don’t embarrass anybody and they’re quiet. It happens every time. In a seminar situation, I will just walk up to the person and put my hand on their shoulder while I’m talking and they will stop. No harm, no foul.

In this case, when I became silent, they kept talking and didn’t even notice. I had an audience of 50-60 people. I simply said into the microphone, “Excuse me in the back of the room. Hello!” I had to say it a couple times until I got their attention. “Excuse me, could you give us the same respect that we gave you?” They were quiet, and the whole audience applauded me because I took care of the room. People talked about that incident for the next two days and how I took control of the room. I did it politely and positively, but I took charge.

7. What do you do when you’re told your time has been cut?

I’ve had my time cut many times in my speaking career. It will happen to you sometime somewhere. Do I like it? No, but you must respect whoever is putting on the event. It is usually due to other speakers before you who did not respect their time and went over. It creates a domino effect.

What can you do? You have to be grateful for the time you have and be flexible enough in your presentation. That’s why I share with everybody my system and formula. If you do my system right, it doesn’t matter how much time is cut.

Remember my speech sandwich? It is the meat in the middle that you reduce. If you have an hour speech and you’re planning on 5-7 topics, but now you only have 30 minutes, what do you do? You take out four things and now you have three good nuggets.

In other words, you don’t have to revamp your entire presentation. All you do is take out some of the meat. It’s like a big old sandwich, loaded with turkey, and it’s so big you can’t get your mouth around it. What do you do? You don’t take out the bread or the lettuce; you take out some of the meat. That’s what you do in your presentation.

When this happens to me, I always try to negotiate. I say, “I understand they took too much time. I get that, but I planned on an hour speech and now I have to cut it in half. How about we split the difference and I do 45? Would that help you out?” It’s either yes or no. If it’s no, okay, but maybe you’ll get 15 minutes more.

Don’t be upset or tell your audience your time was cut. You never want the promoter to look bad, especially if you ever want to speak there again.

8. What do you do when there’s no projector?

If you go to a speaking event and find out there’s no projector and you’re relying on one for your PowerPoint©, what do you do? This can happen. Quickly write out some notes for yourself to keep you on track and deliver it as if it never had a PowerPoint© attached to it. Don’t get upset. Don’t try to go out and get a projector. You’ll be all sweaty and nervous. It’s just not worth it. Let it go.

You can always bring your own equipment with you. I’ve seen people bring their own projector, their own screen, their own computer and they keep it in their car. I had a client who does this because he could not do his presentation without PowerPoint© because he shows financial statistics. What did he do? He brought it all with him as a Plan B.

9. What do you do when you have a big space with only a few people?

I shared with you previously what I did when I had a big stage and few people. I decided not to use my PowerPoint© but walk off stage and step down into the audience and speak.

When I was in Las Vegas, the room was ready for 600 people. Only 44 people showed up. The marketing was very poor. People were scattered throughout the large space. In this case, I asked them to grab their chairs and bring them up to the stage. The majority of people brought their chairs and set them in front of me, theater style. It made for an intimate talk. The energy was contained and not spread out all over the place.

10. What do you do when no one walks to the back of the room to buy?

This might happen when you are speaking from the stage and you make an offer and an invitation to buy, but no one goes to the back of the room to buy. This has happened to me. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen a lot. What do you do?

You still go to the back of the room and you welcome anybody who comes by. There’s always going to be somebody even if they’re not ready to buy. You engage with them, smile, and keep it up as if you’ve got a lot of people in the back of the room. There’s nothing else you can do. If no one goes to the back, be unattached to the outcome. I know that’s the hardest thing to do.

Make goals for how many sales you want to make, but be unattached to the outcome. It will tear you up inside, and you’ll wonder why no one came back even though you gave a great speech? Remember, sometimes people are not ready to buy. Maybe they bought already. Maybe you need to spruce up your offer. Maybe there aren’t enough people in the audience and the energy is low. There are many reasons why.

If you are the last speaker on the last day, competing with other speakers, then there’s probably no money left in the room so no one will buy from you. That can happen. Don’t be attached to the outcome. If you present a persuasive speech, knowing that there are many circumstances that you’re not in control of, you can’t feel bad. You are still the star!

The Benefit Is You Evolve as a Speaker

Staying cool when things don’t go as expected is a skill you will learn how to manage the unexpected over time. Remember to be graceful through it and follow the above recommendations. I promise you’ll be a better speaker for the experience.

If you’re ready to evolve both your ability to deliver a dynamic engaging speech and handle any situation, consider getting trained. Schedule a complimentary consultation with me and I’ll get you started.