Ever been in a situation where, through totally your own fault, you’re suddenly stuck and there is no choice but to wing your way out of it or risk public humiliation, the likes of which has never been seen before? Do you want to hear one of mine? (I might have slightly exaggerated with the “public humiliation, the likes of which has never been seen before” bit).
My job necessitates me occasionally speaking or giving presentations at conferences or events. I actually quite like doing it now, but it used to terrify me. Public speaking can be pretty scary can’t it. On one such occasion several years back my manager had asked me to do the housekeeping talk at the start of a conference. No big deal right? No presentations to give, no workshops to deliver, just some basic info to impart. What could go wrong?
There were around 100 people attending, my manager stood at the podium and welcomed everyone and then said, “I’m now going to hand over to Vanessa for the housekeeping.” I made my way up to the stage, hoping I wouldn’t trip (as if THAT was the only thing I had to worry about, ha! Little did I know).
There were three pieces of information that I was tasked with imparting -
1) Where the ladies and gents toilets were.
2) Where the fire exits and the fire assembly point was.
3) At what times the breaks were during the day.
My heart pounding, I walked up to the podium, turned to face the angry baying crowd of 10,000 (again, I may be slightly exaggerating), and that’s when I realised – I had forgotten to find out where the toilets were, I had forgotten to find out where the fire exits and fire assembly point were, and I wasn’t holding the piece of paper with the break timings. Seriously? How could I do that? I had three bits of information to impart and no idea what they were! It was like one of those nightmares, except that thankfully I wasn’t naked, and my dead grandfather wasn’t there passing round a basket of macaroons made from ground up rats. So what could I do? I had no choice but to wing it. Of course I can’t remember the exact wording, but it was pretty much like this:
“Hello everyone, thank you for coming. I have a couple of things to go through with you. First of all, the ladies and gents loos; if you go back out of the main door to this room and just keep walking, you’ll find them, if not, then ask at reception. If the fire alarm goes off, then please leave quickly by the nearest exit and head towards the fire assembly point at the far end of the car park (I figured that even if that wasn’t where the fire assembly point was located, at least I was sending them somewhere safe away from the building!). And we do have several breaks throughout the day which are detailed on the programme which you’ll find in your packs. If you have any questions, come and find me during the first break. Thanks very much.”
And there we are, I managed to stand up and talk to 100 people without telling them anything of any use at all, and I’m pretty sure nobody noticed. I’m thinking of taking up a career in politics.
When was the last time you were in a “Oh no! Now What?!” situation? And were 100 people watching? Because if there was less than 100 then mine was worse.