Friends and acquaintances have asked if I get nervous in front of an audience, or an angry mob, depending how things are going. Sure. You have to have some nervous energy working for you or else your presentation will fall flat. I’ve always told folks, and I don’t know where I heard it, but I now claim it for me own … it’s OK to have butterflies, the trick is getting them to fly in formation.
As a youngster, I was pretty shy outside of my family circle. In my early teen years I was a reasonably solitary person. It was my English teacher who got me “on stage”. With excited abandon I dove into high school assemblies and stage productions and had a thoroughly good time. A good start.
Over my years in marketing communications I spoke to literally thousands of young people, teacher groups and professional organizations, and along the way I learned some important skills. People taking workshops and/or going to Toastmasters will know what I’m talking about. But the single most important thing is to “do your homework”.
It’s embarassing to see someone get up in front of an audience and attempt to ad-lib their way through something … even a reasonably simple introduction of a speaker. When I prepare for a 3 hour show on Canoe FM (my volunteer stint 3 mornings a week) I spend anywhere up to 2 hours in preparation. I may not use everything I’ve got .. but I’m prepared.
It’s true that even with great preparation odd things can happen and you may have to ad lib to save your moment. One of my best and most frightening moments was in the production of Man of La Mancha when I was playing Sancho, the faithful friend to Don Quixote. One of the great songs that I had was “I like him” .. it’s a funny endearing song. One evening I got into the song and (momentarily distracted for some reason) found I was going to sing the first verse all over again and I couldn’t remember the 2nd verse. Sooooo. I made it up, on the spot. Melissa Stephens, Musical Director, looked over at me with her eyes and mouth wide open .. whatever I did, worked … actually sounded like it was part of the song. Trust me, you don’t want to have to do that too often. But, if you’ve done your homework, you stand a far better chance of digging yourself out of those moments.
A famous BBC announcer talking about a soccer game had to think quick after pronouncing that, “”It’s now 1-1, an exact reversal of the score on Saturday.” Well, maybe you can’t save face on that one.
During President Obama’s health care summit Republican Eric Cantor suffered a bit of a misspeak, saying: “We have a very difficult bridge to gap here.” Yoiks! It’s the gap that needs bridging, of course, not vice versa. He ended up clarifying it later. Darn those butterflies.
One of my very favourite ooopsies was from another UK broadcaster who, in the excitement of hearing his own voice pronounced, “”For most people, death comes at the end of their lives.” Hmmm. I never quite thought of it that way before.
Homework, Homework, Homework. And then, every man for himself.