When Things Go Wrong

Even the most carefully crafted communications plan can fall victim to the occasional kink. What can you do when things go wrong?

Note well: If there is one guarantee when you speak in public or participate in interviews with reporters, it is that something, sometime, somewhere will go wrong. How can you minimize such problems and take steps to combat them in advance? Preparation.

I’ll make the point by citing two case studies. The first involves a quandary for an individual who labors long and hard to organize her presentation software talk to a fine point. Every slide is succinct and message-driven. The graphics and colors are just right. She tailors her speaker’s notes to assure that every transition between slides is seamless.

The big day of the presentation’s unveiling arrives. Our speaker gets there an hour early to check out the room and assure everything necessary is in place. Oops! No projector. After the hotel audio/visual crew scrambles to get one in place, it turns out there is no cable to connect her laptop to the projector (hint: If you routinely do this type of presentation, never travel without the needed cables). As the audience begins streaming into the room, our speaker finally has everything in place.

The audience waits. She is introduced. She begins speaking and presses the remote control to launch the first slide. Nothing happens. Her laptop has frozen. There is no point tinkering with her computer. The show must go on. What to do?

This is where preparation enters into the equation. Fortunately, our speaker has rehearsed her presentation numerous times, so she has a good sense of what she wants to say and how she wants to say it. She has committed to memory her opening and closing – the two most powerful parts of any presentation. Plus, she has a hard copy of her notes and slides to work from.

Wrong Way, Sign, Road, Caution, Warning, Wrong

Her recovery is such that her audience never knows anything is amiss. How does she accomplish this amazing feat? Preparation. She knew her material. Furthermore, she knew that something would go wrong one of these days. When it did, she was prepared.

Now let us consider a real life story. The day after a recent media training workshop, the two participants in the session were scheduled for a live television interview on a local morning newscast. Their driver caused them to arrive late, missing their time slot. The producer shifted them to another segment, whereupon they were escorted to a bare room containing two chairs with microphones on them. Each clipped his microphone on. A camera operator arrived and soon gave them the on-air sign.

As the segment began, neither man could hear the anchor as they had no earpieces and there was no audio from the tiny monitor mounted on the camera. What were they to do? Although sweating bullets, they used their preparation from the previous day’s media training to their advantage.

The anchor finished her first question, totally inaudible to her guests. One interviewee responded something to the effect, “I can’t hear you that well, but let me tell you why we’re here,” bridging seamlessly into his message as discussed during the training. He completed his answer and the anchor asked another muted question. The second subject was trying to read her lips, but was only able to make out one key word. He seized upon that word and launched into a crisp message-oriented response. The duo also handled the third, and thankfully final, question by sticking to their message.

They were able to perform at a high level thanks to the advance preparation they gained during their media training workshop. No matter how you decide to prepare, it is critical that you do so. Remember that guarantee: Sometime, somewhere, something will go wrong.

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