Call it Irony
I was full of pride when Donna Tutty sent me a note about an opportunity to present to the Maine Waste Water Control Association (MWWCA) at Sugarloaf Resort on September 13, 2012. The group was described as very technical and trade-oriented, and they were looking for something a little out of the ordinary. The audience was used to job-specific presentations, and the organizers were looking to add something fresh to the curriculum when they asked District 45 to send a representative to discuss public speaking.
As Toastmasters, we have been taught to prepare our presentations so that we know the material inside and out. In fact, part of my presentation “From Fear to Success” was geared around practice and preparation in order to reduce anxiety. I had no idea how much the training would come in handy.
I got a good night’s sleep, went for an early run while the sun was rising, and felt great about representing our district. I went to the event two hours early to meet the organizers and to network with the organization. I was instantly greeted by several people who made me feel welcome. Today was going to be a good day.
In my preparation a few weeks before the event, I had asked the organizers about microphones, but they said they weren’t needed. I went to the room where I would be presenting to practice my speech and to get a feel of the acoustics and the stage. Let’s start with the sound. I instantly found some echoing in the open room chamber that also had a wide-open staircase and vendors on the floor below causing a significant amount of white noise. I knew I had to adapt my voice since there were no doors to close.
I still had some concerns with the room set-up. Part of my list of questions for the organizers weeks prior to the event included whether or not there was a lectern. The organizer said there would be one in the room, yet when I showed up, it wasn’t to be found. There was no need to panic, because I still had ninety minutes before my presentation. I found someone on the facility staff who said he would take care of me. He found a half lectern that could go on top of a huge table that would have been right in the middle of my anticipated stage. As an alternative, he found a shelf used for ski boot storage that he could rig up. The set-up had the lectern at chin height. While my facility friend was being creative, I found a different set of workers and I asked if they had any other ideas. Within minutes a lectern was rolled my way.
Unfortunately, my lectern dilemma was just the beginning of a good day that could easily slip away into panic and stress as I tried to resolve my issues. There were to be dual presenters before me who were sitting behind laptops at a large table that needed to be moved prior to my speech. The table was easy to move but the multiple cords and projector that sat right in the center of my supposed stage was not only tripping hazards, they were in my intended speaking path. It didn’t help that the screen for my slides was tucked awkwardly into a corner. When I moved the projector out of my walking path, the projected slides were keystone in shape and too small for the audience to see. As the moderator and I attempted to resolve the slides, we found that the auto adjustments on the projector itself weren’t working properly. We attempted to resolve the problem by tucking pads of paper under one side of the projector. We were right up against the time for the first presenters, so we needed a break for about an hour. This left me with thirty minutes to resolve the issue prior to my presentation. Was I nervous? No, because I had a Plan B.
When I had the chance, I hooked up my own projector and we were back in business. Unfortunately, the moderator’s laptop was now having problems. Time for Plan C. I connected my own laptop and we were once again back in business. As for speaker introductions, many of us have learned to not only write our own, but to share it with the moderator to ensure he or she meets the presenter’s expectations. She said she liked my introduction. However, she planned to cut it short and adlib to allow more speaking time. I told her how diligent Toastmasters attempt to be with timing, and that I had actually accounted for her to read to entire introduction. She reluctantly agreed, until she went to grab her copy and couldn’t find it. I reached into my folder and handed her the extra copy I had for “just in case” situations. This allowed me the time to share how I preferred to have my introduction delivered. She seemed relieved and appreciative.
The actual presentation could not have gone any better. The audience was receptive and the Toastmasters’ training proved its value easily. I know a few years ago how panic-stricken I would have been and how the road blocks could have held me back from getting the message I wanted to the audience. Instead, I was able to be flexible, offer solutions to the problems, and even incorporate the problems into the presentation to enhance it. As for the moderator’s concern about going over our allotted time, for my hour-long presentation, I finished in 59 minutes and thirty seconds. Thank you Toastmasters’ training.
A presentation about practice and preparation to reduce anxiety and lead to success was put into action before it even started—call it irony. As a Toastmaster you have significant control over your own successes. Be ready for the unexpected and don’t be surprised when the unexpected appears. Be confident in everything you have learned, or will learn, from Toastmasters’ training. Your communication and leadership skills will ensure that any moment of fear can turn into success.
Thomas B. Dowd III books The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World and From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide are available under “Products” on www.transformationtom.com. Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the links to be re-directed: Amazon.com