“But that’s not what happened in rehearsal!”
Ever make a mistake that you had to correct over and over again? “Oops, I did it again!” I can hear those song lyrics in my head. After twenty years of stage time, you would think that I had figured out and remembered lessons after having to relearn them three times.
In order to prepare for the opening of the Toastmasters Convention a few years ago, I went to as many Toastmaster Clubs as possible. I wanted to work on my speech, and the way I prepare is by giving the speech live and then tweaking it. The more I give it, the more I tweak it, and the better it gets. People who are great speech writers may have a different process. You need to do what works for you.
In my speech that I was delivering to the clubs, “Sponge: What’s Filling You?”, there is a point where I introduce a quote that had a profound effect on my life. It is a famous quote by Jim Rohn:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
My presentation was about applying this quote literally to our lives. In order to get the audience involved in my presentation, I asked them to write down their top five people. I even paused the presentation to give them time to write. The majority of my audience always wrote. I could see the pens come out and heads down as they focused. I could see the effect it had on people; they really went deeper in thought because of the interaction. Perfect. That was just what I wanted. It worked.
Fast-forward to the opening ceremonies a few years ago on the evening of August 12th as I was introduced right after the President’s opening comments, a parade of flags, and a few songs by Elvis. Everything went off just the way it was supposed to. I walked out onto the stage under the bright lights and began my speech. I felt connected. It was wonderful.
When I got to the body of my speech, I delivered the quote as usual and then asked the audience to write down their top five. Nobody moved. Yikes! This had never happened in any of my practice presentations. Honestly, I was shaken for a moment. I even asked again, “Please take a moment to write down your top five. I can see you!” I said it partially in jest and partially with a little frustration.
Fortunately, the rest of the presentation was well received. Most of it went right. Most people probably didn’t even notice my temporary frustration. I wanted people to participate for themselves. It really was about them.
Or was it? Wow, I can’t believe I still continue to learn lessons as I go. The more I reflected on what happened, the clearer it became. There were several reasons why people did not respond as they had in my practice speeches.
First, consider mindset. It was the opening ceremonies of a four-day convention. Attendees were not in the training mode. It’s more of a time for inspiration and entertainment. That mindset is very different and challenging to duplicate in my practice speeches.
Second, it was evening. After six o’clock at night, people are in an additional mindset. My presentation was more inspirational than training, and it was great for the opening ceremonies; but people are not at that session to take notes. That’s just how it is. The fault was in my mind with my own expectations. My bad.
Third, the room was set up for the cameras and for live streaming video. Though the stage was well lit, the audience was sitting in the dark. That is not conducive to note-taking.
And finally, most of the audience did not have their handouts in front of them. At all of my practice presentations, people had their “Sponge” handouts in front of them. This sets a clear expectation of note-taking. Though the handouts for my presentation were available online in a digital format, I don’t think many people had them in front of them or had even printed them out. I should have considered that. Again, my bad.
My biggest mistake was letting the unexpected reaction throw me. I pride myself on being good at being in the moment. I usually am, because I continue to work on it. In this case I got frustrated for a moment due to my lack of insight. When I prepared, I should have considered more carefully the circumstances in which I would be presenting. Whenever most people don’t interact the way you planned, it is usually your own issue. It means that perhaps the directions were not clear; or, as in my presentation, I did not consider the mindset of the audience in that situation.
It amazes me how much I still need to learn and relearn. How about you? What did you take away from this article? What did it make you think about? I want to know.
Please share your thoughts and read comments from others below…
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I was one of the people there in the audience at the Toastmasters Convention, and reading this made me smile. Not because things didn’t work out the way you’d expect…but because as a member of the audience I had no idea that this was problematic for you at all. I believe it worked in your favor, and as I recall you got a few additional laughs from it. In that moment you were vulnerable. Reality is that you can ask for things all day long, and many of us do, but the experience of being ignored or asking for something and not getting it is universal. It worked in your advantage because in that moment you went from Champion of Public Speaking to someone dealing with the same type of frustration we’ve all experienced. Not what you intended, but I think it may have caused a deeper connection with the audience and made them more open to the rest of the message. And, by the way, that quote was one thing that stuck with me, and I passed along to a couple of other people. And no, I didn’t write names, but i did think about it in my head. 🙂
Stacy, thank you for taking the time to provide Darren with the detailed feedback you did on September 1, 2015 at 6:15am because I benefited from it today at 7:21 am on 3/1/22! Specifically, what I learned from your feedback is: (1) how important it is to craft a universal relatable message (2) be vulnerable in transfer of message to audience and (3) have intention be to connect deeply with audience then let go and trust connection will be established and if I practice letting go and trusting but don’t in final delivery of message be vulnerable in my frustration of not getting what I want because there is deeper connection in failure and frustration than success! . Sivan Rhodes 3 week old Toastmaster 1 message away from completing level 2 pathway so I can compete in World Championship of Public Speaking 2022. PS: Stacy, there was one additional lesson I learned from the experience of reading your feedback: we are always planting seeds and we never know how they will grow so be conscious of the seeds I’m planting (future message I plan to convey on my aspired journey to complete all 11 pathways in Toastmasters International and become a member of the National Speakers Association so I can communicate my messages most effectively).
Almost had an oops moment myself but luckily caught it before I was to go onstage. My presentation was all about teamwork and having common goals to strive for. I was planning on using a clip from the US Olympic hockey team’s win over the Soviets in 1980. I thought it was a great way to show the attendees an exciting moment when a group of people worked toward a goal to overcome the odds. As I was giving it a dry run with some people I noticed that it wasn’t making as much of an impact as I imagined it would. Suddenly it occurred to me that they, like the audience I was going to present to, were too young to understand the significance! To them it was merely a hockey game against a country that didn’t even exist any longer. Feeling suddenly old; I pulled it and it went well. It was the moment when the idea of understanding your audience really hit home with me. Thanks Darren for sharing and helping us all to be better!
Thanks for taking time to share a story about a time you messed up on stage on 9/1/2015 at 6:20am because it helped me, a new Message Maker (3 week old Toastmaster) learn a valuable lesson today 3/1/22 – craft audience appropriate messages!
I really appreciate how open you are about your life experience. Thank you for sharing this. It reminds me of the saying when you point your finger at someone, you have 3 more pointing back at yourself. Therefore, attempt to change you, not the other. Thank you for your contributions to humankind.
Thank you for taking the time provide the helpful feedback you did to Darren on 9/1/2015 at 6:26am because it helped me on 3/1/22 at 7:42am! Specifically, what I learned from you was to transmute my frustration into introspection – would I have received the message I intended in the way it was delivered? And if so, what is different about this audience than me? What did I miss that I can learn from in my conveyance of future messages?
My big “misjudging the audience response” moment came at a Division-level International Speech Contest. For a prop I had a cleverly designed and well constructed toilet paper spindle handmade by my Dad. He made it when the original one broke. I intended it to be a symbol of craftsmanship and ingenuity, but when I presented it to the audience, they laughed. I was totally unprepared for that, and it threw me off. I took it as an insult to the Dad I admired very much. I guess “know your audience” is the rule we have to follow.
Thank you for taking the time to provide such valuable feedback on 9/1/15 at 6:40am which I greatly benefitted from today 3/1/22 at 7:48am! Specifically what I learned from your feedback is “know myself” as much as “know my audience” eg know my sensitivities, vulnerabilities, run through a lot of “what if they..” scenarios and ultimately commit to my decision eg use the handcrafted toilet spool, let go, and let god be in charge of results. Appreciatively, Sivan Rhodes (3 week old Toastmaster competing in World Championship 2022).
Wonderful story and lesson! Thank you, I know this will help me avoid the same with upcoming speeches. Thanks for continuing to share your vulnerabilities and awesomeness!
Thank you for taking your valuable time to provide helpful feedback to Darren on 9/1/15 at 6:50am which I GREATLY benefitted from on 3/1/22 at 8:17am! Specifically what I learned from it is great stories contain great lessons and to ask myself: how can I share this lesson most vulnerably and awesomely? Appreciatively, Sivan Rhodes (3 week old Toastmaster competing in World Championship of Public Speaking 2022)
Another reason I continue to look to you for wisdom, my friend. You could have easily written about the many successes and laudatory comments you received in Vegas last month. True to your nature, you chose to share a teachable moment with us. Such a contrast to many presenters who are compelled to focus on all of their ‘victories.’ As always, thanks for insight into a unique situation, and how to prevent this in future speeches.
Thanks for taking the time to share your helpful feedback to Darren on 9/1/15 at 7:16 am which I GREATLY benefitted from today 3/1/22 at 7:54am! Specifically what I learned from it is share my failures more than successes because those are the most teachable, helpful, and meaningful messages! Appreciatively, Sivan Rhodes (3 week old Toastmaster competing in World Championship of Public Speaking 2022).
That is just Darren ! You are always willing to share your experiences, positive and not so positive. This is a sign of a true Teacher, showing that you too could be vulnerable… and then you made good use of the situation and got the audience connected in a totally unexpected, unplanned way ! Bravo !!
Thanks for taking the time to provide such helpful feedback on 9/1/15 to Darren which I GREATLY benefitted from today 3/1/22 at 8:00am! Specifically what I learned from it is: when I am attempting to teach someone something put myself back in the mindset of when I was learning the lesson I am attempting to effectively convey and share a balanced experience- the good, the challenging (I philosophically don’t see anything as “bad” because what most have deemed “bad” in my life still serves me the most today), and the “falls on our face” moments because those are the most relatable, helpful and comical! Appreciatively, Sivan Rhodes (3 week old Toastmaster competing in World Championship of Public Speaking 2022)
Thanks Darren for sharing your experience at convention. I was one of the audience participants and while I could mentally hear your frustration with us for not responding like your practice participants, you overcame it and moved forward. To be honest I was asking myself “what does he want from us – it’s opening ceremonies and I’m not here as a workshop participant?!” I did LOVE your Sponge analogy and I laughed because I always tell new and seasoned Toastmasters to be a sponge and soak everything in. It may not always make sense at that moment but it will.
You’ve made sense to your situation for all of us and taught us that everyone has “those moments” of frustration and recognition afterwards. Thank you for enlightening everyone!
Thank you for taking time to provide such helpful feedback to Darren on 9/1/15 at 8:48am which I GREATLY benefitted from on 3/1/22 at 8:24am! Specifically what I learned from it is: (1) audiences can “mentally hear” from my body language so be conscious, intentional, and impactful with mine (2) be crystal clear what I want from an audience so they never have to wonder “what does (s)he want from us?” (3) “is what I want realistic/appropriate under current audience circumstances?” (4) have I made sense of my situation in story to audience? Would I understand if I was in their seats? (5) frustration>recognition moments are universal, relatable, and impactful. Appreciatively, Sivan Rhodes (3 week old Toastmaster competing in World Championship of Public Speaking 2022).
Wow, Darren. And Happy Birthday! This is an awesome reminder that as speakers we must NEVER rest on our laurels. As in a game of tennis, we must be in ready pose at all times, prepared to take action when things don’t go as planned (as they inevitably will). I find that speaking is a very humbling experience. Sometimes it hurts, but it “hurts good”. 🙂
Thank you for taking time to provide Darren with such helpful feedback on 9/1/15 at 11:12am which I greatly benefitted from today 3/1/15 at 8:33 am! My specific takeaway from it: ALWAYS BE PREPARED for things to not go as planned because they won’t!” Appreciatively, Sivan Rhodes (3 week old Toastmaster competing in World Championship of Public Speaking 2022)
Fabulous…..and I would say fantabulous like one of our Toastmasters used to address her emotions. Any individual who goes on stage needs to know this very well – understand the audience, the moment and the occasion. You have summarized it so well…Learning from mistakes is what makes a person professional and you are the best. Thank you.
Thank you for taking your valuable time to share feedback with Darren on 9/1/15 at 12:39pm which I greatly benefitted from on 3/1/22 at 8:38 am! My Specific takeaways: (1) know what your audience wants (2) deliver moment/occasion appropriate message and (3) being “professional” means learning mistakes and sharing lessons learned. Appreciatively, Sivan Rhodes (3 week old Toastmaster competing to win World Championship of Public Speaking 2022)
Thanks, Darren, for another wonderful insight in to the relationship between speaker and audience, and all the little things that can make a speech that sounds great in practice not work the same way with real live people listening to it.
Thank you for taking time to provide valuable feedback to Darren on 9/2/15 at 7:17 am which I benefitted immensely today 3/1/22. My specific takeaways: (1) an awareness that there is a relationship between myself as message conveyer and my audience even though they are strangers (2) my message will ALWAYS be delivered/received differently with REAL LIVE (OR VIRTUAL) audience! Your feedback brings to mind a quote from Heraclitus: “No man (which today would read “person”) ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s (which today would read “he,” “she,” “they,” “them,” “that person”) is not the same man (which today would read same aforementioned pronouns). Appreciatively, Sivan Rhodes (3 week old Toastmaster competing to win World Championship of Public Speaking 2022)
Thanks for sharing and going so far as to list several things that you should have considered. It’s comforting to know that learning occurs even among the champions in a field. My best lessons have come from those “ah-ha” moments when things don’t go as expected in front of an audience.
Interesting! That wasn’t where I thought you were going with that title. I thought you were reminding us that the audience doesn’t know what our speech is going to be, and so keep going, or something like that.
It is great that you checked in with your audience.
These insights remind me just how difficult it is to “over-prepare” a speech! This is a great call-to-action to remember it’s all about them–the audience–and not me.
I’m so excited to have gotten involved with you. This blog certainly brings memories of a presentation I was to give at a treatment center. I often speak in recovery settings by sharing my story of recovery. It’s a really inspiring story. I expected the audience to be inspired and pumped up for recovery but they were early in the process and some were actually still going through withdrawal. I can relate to that temporary frustration when the expected response is not granted. I understood better afterward (insight) Thanks again! Looking forward to growing with you.
Hey Darren. This story violates at least two principles which I learned from you: 1) The speech is about the audience, not me. 2) Consider ahead of time, the people, mindset and setting when preparing the speech. I have been on the other end of this type of blunder. I was there to be inspired and entertained, not trained. I was also in no position to take notes. Therefore, you are correct in why the audience failed to react as you had expected.
What a great teaching moment for all of us who present. Your circumstances, mindset and frustrations are shared experiences even for the most experienced presenters, speakers and MCs. What you learned from the factors and takeaways of that moment is something that is helpful for all of us in our preparation for future presentations. If we are frustrated that a presentation did not go as well as expected, this tells us that we should ask ourselves what is the teachable moment just like you did? Thank you so much for sharing and I will take this into serious consideration to further my development as an experienced presenter and leader.
Great observation after the event. I’m not sure I would have thought about the particular circumstances ahead of time myself.
Good to see this Darren. Reason I didn’t take notes is because I didn’t bring a pen and there were no pens on the table 🙂
Thanks for showing your humility and insights, Darren. Is there a speaker out there who has perfect audiences every time? Nope.
Your post reminds us to be flexible and adjust in the moment. Because you do great humor, in the future I bet you’ll turn an “oops” into a humorous moment. Can’t wait to read that post!
It’s also a reminder to never, ever get frustrated on the platform. We owe it to our audience to give them our best at all times. Is it possible you’d had a negative thought or incident before going on stage that set you up to be frustrated rather than tapping into a curious mindset and thinking on your humor feet when the oops happened?
I was in the audience during that presentation. I don’t even remember this instance, but I do remember the presentation. It was very good. You do raise valid points, but I think it’s effected you more than your audience.
Darren, you wrote that you, “Pride yourself in being in the moment.” I consider myself at being good at thinking on my feet. You got me thinking about those two phrases. Are they the same, or is there a difference? Can one be in the moment and not be good at thinking on their feet? Can one think on their feet and not be good at being in the moment?
I’ve always said this skill made me a good substitute teacher.
Thanks for the inspiration. God bless and keep you and make his face to shine upon you always.