I messed up my talk and no one noticed.

I’m standing on stage, about to finish my talk. It was a good talk. Well, it was actually an epic fail, but I was the only one who knew it. So, was it really a failure if no one else thought so?

As I was wrapping up another speaking tour (Greece, Canada, Sweden), and writing for my upcoming book F*ck the slides was progressing slower than expected, I was invited to speak in Bulgaria. Maria, a close friend and fellow entrepreneur at EO, the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, was planning a September retreat. Celebrating 25 years since launching her company.

The plan was to have more than ten speakers and almost a 100 employees and partners gather together at a hotel up in the mountains for two-and-a-half days.

I was hoping that my book and website would be ready, but as luck would have it, I still only had a draft of the book The final product still wasn’t where I wanted it to be. Nevertheless, I decided to go and give them the best show I could.

As we arrived at the hotel and guests were checking-in, the admin told me they had made some small changes and my talk would be cut from 45 to 30 minutes, including some QA. I smiled, and said no problem. It seemed easy enough, right?

After the first evening, I got to work, cutting down parts of my talk. What I thought would take me an hour or so ended up taking over 5 hours. I was so used to delivering my keynote talk in a certain way that would get me into a certain rhythm that automatically resulted in a  longer talk.

I wasn’t happy with it, so I restructured everything. Finally, I went to bed believing I had an amazing talk ready.

Morning. With my hotel breakfast in front of me, I’m going through everything in my head… and it was a mess. I kept confusing everything. I decided to focus on the first two scenes, trusting that I knew the rest. I went on stage, did the first part, and then lost it. Something in the order got confused. As I continued talking, my brain was calculating what to do next.

I decided not to go back. The show must go on. At one point, it was so bad, my phone rang in my pocket, on stage. Yep, that happened.

Here are a few tips that help me when I am stressed or have a bad start to my talk.
  1.   Always keep going and forget the parts you skipped, especially if they are just stories. If you need them as part of your method or concept, stop after a few minutes and recap. This will give you a chance to start again.
  2.   Find two or three people in the audience that you can focus on. Smile at them, give them your attention. They will serve as your anchors.
  3.   Always have a story ready that you know well, something you can revert to, like a commercial. Have a transition in mind like, “This reminds me of a story…” This gives you time, the audience enjoys, and you can relax.
  4.   Engage the audience with some activity – this is a great fall back that will buy you some time. By passing around the microphone and laughing with guests, you can regroup your thoughts and start again.
  5.   They don’t know – they have no idea what you plan on saying, so don’t sweat it if you make a mistake. Keep calm and focused. Make sure your tone conveys confidence.

The show must go on, but try to still have fun. Remember that most of the time, the audience will feel empathy if you are honest. Shit happens, don’t worry about it. Record your talks and learn from them.

Another funny thing

In the last minute of the talk, I invited people to sign up for my newsletter with a link to my website.

What I did not know was that the team forgot to hide the new landing page. It had buttons to sign up but no real text. Everything said ‘Lorem Ipsum’ – a standard text placeholder that means nothing.

After the talk, some people came up to me and said they loved the text on my site, one person said it was genius. I smiled but didn’t realize what they meant.

What they thought was funny, was a mistake. Other people will perceive your actions differently.

I wanted to bury myself, explain and give excuses, but we screwed up. It is part of the process. We owned it and kept going.

The best part of this story is that people signed up, many people.

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