Polishing Performance Ep03: Unexpected Surprises

When giving a high-stakes talk, it may not always go exactly as you have planned. Unexpected obstacles happen. And there are a couple of tricks you can use when they do.


  • When in doubt, MOVE.

    If you’ve forgotten your line or you have no idea where you are in your Talk all of a sudden, just move. Movement can trigger memory.

  • "Yes, And..."

    When something goes wrong, acknowledge that something has gone wrong! Your audience knows so address the issue and move on.

  • Expect mistakes.

    It is rare that you will experience absolute perfection every time to speak. Expect that there may be speed bumps now and then and be ready for them.

If you do freeze on stage and you forget your next line, move. Take a step in any direction.Kymberlee

Kymberlee: When you giving a high stakes talk or a talk of any type, things can go wrong.

Alan Irwin: God, yeah.

Kymberlee: And chances are, they will. Guess what? That will make for great stories, but in the moment, what do you do when something goes wrong?

Alan Irwin: Right. In improv, we have a fundamental concept called, "yes, and."

In bigger terms, it's acceptance and addition. What that means is, you always want to acknowledge or guess what's going on around you. We do that a lot of times when we're building a scene but in this context when something goes wrong, acknowledge something has gone wrong. The audience knows that. They're uncomfortable, they're wondering what you're going to do, and if you at least acknowledge their feeling and then can go from there, that is a big step towards resolving the problem.

So first, yes, there's a problem. And we're going to figure out how to do this. And, I'm going to do this. And, I'm going to call them over there. So yes, the lights just went out, and we're having somebody take a look at it. Or yes, the slide projector just died, so I'm going to describe what would have been up on the slides. Acknowledge the problem and then let them know what you're going to do to solve it.

Kymberlee: One of the #1 fears out there. I forget my line. What do I do? Well, one thing you can do is just, excuse me, I'm going to get a drink of water. Then you can go over, have your water, chances are you will remember what you wanted to say by the time you get back to where you belong.

Alan Irwin: Right. Absolutely.

Kymberlee: That's a one trick you can do.

Alan Irwin: Absolutely. Again, any of those acknowledgements. Move to a different position.

Kymberlee: Yes.

Alan Irwin: If you've forgotten something, move to a different location. Find somebody who can technically deal with the problem. Whatever may have happened, I will acknowledge if I've skipped a section. It's like, "You know? I want to go back and talk about something I forgot earlier. Let me cover that with you." Acknowledge and then give them the correction.

Kymberlee: In one of our TEDx events, we had a situation where someone in the audience fell over.

Alan Irwin: Oh.

Kymberlee: During the middle of a TEDx talk.

Alan Irwin: Right.

Kymberlee: What do you do? Well, you know, there's somethings we can do in post, but you've got to acknowledge what happens.

Alan Irwin: Yep.

Kymberlee: Everybody is aware of what's going on.

Alan Irwin: And you've got to deal with that.

Kymberlee: Right. You have to deal with that and just let them deal with it, breathe, have a drink of water, come back, and then you can begin again where you left off.

Alan Irwin: Right.

Kymberlee: So it's really, really important. You've taught me the "yes, and" technique and I use that all the time as I need to in all kinds of ways of life, even beyond speaking. To accept that something happened and then acknowledge.

Alan Irwin: It's also a way of dealing with your own panic around something. I mean, when something bad happens, you are going to freeze. You will stop thinking. You've got this problem in front of you.

Kymberlee: Yes.

Alan Irwin: Acknowledging the problem with the audience and then going forward will get you through that difficulty of not knowing what to do.

Kymberlee: I just want to highlight what you said, also, to make sure everybody really remembers this, is, if you do freeze and you forget what your line is, move. Take a step in any direction. You'll hear me say this again and again and again because it's one of the most effective techniques that you can use when something goes wrong. Because mistakes are going to happen, but now you have a couple tools you can use the next time they do.

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  1. Very practical and useful tricks we can all use when the unexpected happens.
    Very helpful.

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