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April 2004 - Be an Adaptable Speaker

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April 2004

Be an Adaptable Speaker

If you want to appear professional and confident in your presentations, don’t let little things bother you such as an out-of-sync slide, a mispronounced word, or a minor interruption.  Handling unexpected problems draws your audience closer to you and inspires confidence in you.  Here are some examples of adaptability.

  • You keep calm after you forget what comes next.  Don’t panic—simply go back and summarize what you have said so far.  Usually, you will remember.  If you don’t, say, “Just a minute.  I got lost.” Take a few seconds; find your place, and then continue.
  • You know what is appropriate dress for the occasion.  It’s always better to overdress than underdress.  However, I unintentionally carried this to an extreme once.  Some years ago I got mixed up on the type of occasion and showed up for a speech in a neighboring state dressed in a tuxedo; no one else even had a tie.  That occasion was “casual night,” the next night was formal.  I didn’t let it bother me.  I took a few good natured jabs in stride, made a joke of it by saying “this is the way we always dress in Alabama when we go to a barbeque,” took off my coat and tie and did gave my speech..  By the way, this faux pas would not be nearly as serious as showing up casual when the audience is in formal attire. 
  • When someone asks you a question for which you don’t know the answer, don’t step away.  Instead, confidently and slowly take a step toward them.  This gives you time to think and communicates that you are pleased they asked the question.  Then either answer it or if you can’t, just say,” Good question.  I don’t have a good answer, but I’ll find out and get back to you.”  Then make certain you do.  By the way, don’t say, “I’m glad you asked that question,” when you really wish they had not asked it.  It comes across as phony because it is.
  • When a cell phone rings you don’t act perturbed, make a wise crack, or embarrass the person.  He probably feels bad enough already.  If he doesn’t, your comment won’t register with him anyway.  And besides, others in the audience will think less of you if you comment.  Just continue as if it doesn’t bother you.   You will win points from your audience.
  • The projector quits and you can’t show your PowerPoint slides, but you have a contingency plan.  If you are at a good spot for a break, stop and regroup.  If not, press on.

The bottom line is to be listener-centered—not message-centered or self-centered, but listener-centered.  Listener-centeredness implies adaptability.  And your adaptability as presenter to your audience will go a long way toward establishing your credibility.

For more good advice about presentations, see my latest book, Speaking Effectively

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

April 2004 - Be an Adaptable Speaker
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