Imagine you're speaking to an audience of human beings that are pretending to be life-sized cardboard cutouts.
What can you do?
You can change, that's what!
If something doesn't work at the beginning, it's okay to change. Even if you’ve planned on tying it to your ending. You’re not chained to something just because you’ve planned it.
I gave a speech a few months back and I used a lead-in that the audience must not have been ready for…
This is what I said:
I used it with a slight of humor and it met not a smile. Maybe too gory? Or perhaps the timing wasn’t right since it was a few weeks after the attacks in Paris. My fault. Shoulda considered that before using that opening to begin with.
I originally planned to tie that into my closing, but that changed real quick. I took note and blew the line away with buckshot.
It could also work the same way with a joke that pancakes on the pavement. You simply adjust, or roll with the punches. Whether that means openly acknowledging to the audience that your joke sucked, or avoiding any callbacks to it later on in your talk, the magic is in adjusting and not being too rigid.
You have the final say. If something doesn’t work how you had hoped, change it. It might take a little impromptu. No problem. That’s okay.
For perfectionists this is a real battle. Believe me, I’m a recovering one. [I even wrote a book to my fellow perfectionists!]
What is prepared is considered the holy grail. And if something doesn’t go as planned, consider it a mistake. Let me tell ya, perfectionists have these things called internal critics which are forged in serpent hell. So, it’s not easy welcoming mistakes.
That’s the key, though. Don’t panic due to the sudden jolt to your plans. Even in the case of a heckler, don’t run from it. It’s a good test of your focus, your emotions, and your ability to adjust on the fly.
Usually it’s in those moments when I deviate from my structure (not to be confused with memorization) that the funniest or most memorable moments happen.
Besides, it’s making it “real” for the audience. It’s what makes them, right then and there, feel unique and maybe a little special.
No audience member wants to be part of a cookie-cutter presentation, so don’t make them aware of the fact that, yes, it is based on something you prepared (and then some...). Changing things up on the fly helps you avoid that.
It’s like seeing a stand-up comic perform and then down the road you see the comic again doing the exact same joke sets, in the same exact sequence—it puts a damper on the original memory to say the least. Comics are some of the most prepared people in the world, and one of their biggest objectives is to appear completely spontaneous. They’re very good at it which is why I felt betrayed at that 2nd show!
There's a lot to gain from change...
As you see, there are a few benefits to letting change happen. You can help take the bad and boring and turn it into something better. If that means funny then great! Maybe it means directing your topic to something more useful or interesting to the audience. Again, that’s great!
On top of that, another benefit is that it can take some pressure off your shoulders. Mainly, the pressure to be perfect and free of mistakes.
If you tweak your mindset to allow for mistakes and even welcome them, you’ll lessen the anxiety that comes from the fear of making them. That means you won’t be as nervous pre-speech.
This is a huge skill that you can develop. There are improv classes. There’s Toastmasters where you can do entire impromptu speeches (or Table Topics which is specifically for impromptu). Or you can learn on the fly during live speaking opportunities.
Start with the mindset and give yourself some slack.
Feel free to share this post because it might save somebody!
About this guy...
Howdy! My name is Matt Kramer and I used to suffer excruciating death when speaking in front of a group, now I LOVE it. Overcoming this fear has changed my life. In less than a year since, I’ve started this website, Tactical Talks, competed and won 3 separate public speaking contests, wrote a book, and spoke at one of the top universities in southern California (SDSU).
And look, I’m not telling you this to “show off.” My purpose is to show you that it’s possible to start doing the things that YOU want to do. And that’s my goal. My focus is to help you overcome the fear of public speaking so you can build the confidence to go after what you want in life.