Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Plan for problems: a ‘bumpy road” speaking experience

My first career involved doing applied research in a laboratory and speaking once a year at technical conferences about the interesting results. Back in 1982 the annual meeting of the National Association of Corrosion Engineers was in Houston, Texas. Most of the sessions were in meeting rooms that held about 40 people, and had downward-pointing, recessed spotlights for easy note-taking.

I went to present a technical paper in a session on the metallurgy of oilfield equipment. Because of the drilling boom they expected a large audience and moved it to a ballroom that could hold about 150 people. This ballroom had no recessed lights. Once the doors closed and the main lights were switched off, the only light came from the 35mm slide projector and a little lamp on the speaker’s lectern.

When I got up to and started my talk I asked for the first slide. There was a bright flash on the screen as the projector bulb burned out and the rest of the room went black. The projectionist had to crawl to the back doors and push one open before he could even find the light switch and change the bulb. It probably took him only two minutes, but as I just stood there it felt like forever.

All my rehearsals had been done with the slides as a crutch. Without them I felt helpless. I wasn’t prepared to wing it and use a blackboard or flip chart as a back-up. Actually the first four slides in my introduction just were text. If I had been less nervous, then I could easily have smoothly started my talk without them.

This post was in inspired by, and appears as a comment on Susan Trivers Great Speaking Coach blog.

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