When things go wrong

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Public Speaking  |  Case Studies  |  Best Practices

I frequently speak at conferences and obsess over the details to get things right. I wrote about some of the obsessions in my blog post Top ten tips for incredibly successful public speaking.

But I also plan for things to go wrong.

Wpc2013 copyYesterday I had a mini disaster when I spoke at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston.

The problem, you ask?

Well, the session was supposed to be today at 3:00, NOT yesterday.

I get a call from Justin Pirie from Mimecast who worked with Asher Mathew from Avalara to plan the “Emerging Leaders” track: “David? Where are you? You go on in one minute!”

“What?!” I was just arriving at my hotel in my grubby travel clothes: worn out cargo pants and a surfing t-shirt. “I’m speaking tomorrow at 3:00,” I said.

“No, it’s now!”

Holy crap. I have no time! I’m a mile away and haven’t registered for the conference. I don’t know where to go. I’m not dressed properly.

I could have just said it wasn’t my fault. I could have said I wasn’t ready. There were a bunch of reasons why I could have said I can’t make it.

The show must go on!

The Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference is 10,000 plus people – a huge event with many rooms. I decide to go for it. This won’t be easy.

“I’m on my way, Justin. Stay on the line!”

I run to the hotel’s taxi station and pause for 30 seconds to grab a sport coat from my bag. I give the bellman a $20 bill and my business card and ask him to hang onto my bag.

Dammit. There’s a line for taxis.

In a move I would never do under any other circumstances, I give the guy in the front of the line a twenty and say it’s an emergency and I need the next cab. He takes the cash and laughs at me.

I’m still on the phone with Justin who tells me which door of the Houston Convention Center to have the taxi go while I’m juggling the phone and my money.

“Justin, what’s happening?” I want to know what the people in the room are doing.

“People are waiting,” Justin says. “It is a full room.”

Yikes. What am I doing? “Nearly there!”

We make it to the venue in five minutes. No time for change, I hand the driver a twenty and run in the door. Asher is there and had organized a security person to escort me through to the room because I had not yet gotten my badge.

I arrive in the room at 3:13, just fourteen minutes after hearing that I was due on stage. I look terrible in my surfer clothing. It takes about two minutes to set up the equipment as Justin introduces me.

Because I have so much adrenaline in my system from the mad dash, I give a very energetic talk and the people in the audience seem understanding to my lateness (which they didn’t need to be).

Be prepared

In your business, you can never anticipate every potential pitfall. How can you plan for your speech being a day earlier? But if you plan ahead and be aware of problems, you can react in real-time when one pops up.

Unlike many speakers who work the night before on their presentation, I had prepared my talk well before I arrived in Houston. I had everything with me (I carry my presentation slides on a memory stick from the moment I leave home). I knew my material.

I found out later that the cause of the mix-up was one of those multiple errors compounded because many people were involved. It was a chain of events that happened in such a weird way that no one person was at fault. It happens.

Fortunately this one worked out well in the end.

Here’s a shot from about an hour after the talk with the people who helped me pull off the mad dash to the venue. Left to right, Justin Pirie from Mimecast Megan Casey from Microsoft, Asher Mathew from Avalara, and me in my surfer clothing with a sportcoat to look halfway presentable.

Thanks Megan, Justin and Asher. We did it.

Microsoft WPC