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Morning Sickness

Rusty: You scared?
Linus: You suicidal?
Rusty: Only in the morning.

(Ocean’s Eleven)

Sometimes, the thing that is going to go wrong with your presentation actually starts going wrong long before you step up to the lectern. Sometimes, a disaster is sneaking up on you while your sleeping the night away in tranquil ignorance. If you’re lucky, you have some time to fully wake up, shower, eat and get yourself to the venue before the day begins go south. If you’re less lucky, you’ll wake up, ready to face the day, and it will suddenly and dreadfully become apparent that your recent unconsciousness was a blessing. And even though your still in bed, it’s already too late to do anything about it.

Public speaking presentation skills coach Lisa Braithwaite has over fifteen years professional public speaking experience and is fortunate enough to only have had one of so I’m willing to assume she’s no stranger to this sort of mornings.  In the story she has kindly shared with us today, she describes how it went for her and why it’s so important for us to gut it out when we would rather just give in.

For six years I worked for a domestic violence organization. Part of my job was to speak to high school students about healthy and unhealthy relationships. I usually gave 3-4 presentations a day and made the rounds to all the schools in the district each semester.

One day, I was scheduled to give several presentations in a row. I woke up with terrible flu symptoms: I was weak, I had a fever, my head was pounding, and I was seriously debilitated. I called the school to cancel my engagement.

They called the teacher to the phone — the substitute teacher, that is. The substitute teacher who had no lesson plan because she had been expecting me. Even worse, the students — who normally sat at computers in their business class — were displaced for the day and had to meet in the cafeteria. I faced a teacher with no lesson plan, and students with no computers. The teacher begged and pleaded with me to show up, and I had no backup speaker. So I did.

I filled a water bottle with herbal tinctures and headed over to the school. My energy level was nowhere near my normal capacity, but I dug deep and gave them everything I had. I powered echinacea during the breaks and held it together until the classes were over.

Now, I don’t recommend infecting people with viruses. This was a special instance, a difficult decision, a case of “the show must go on.”

You may be having a bad hair day. You may not feel your best. You may have stubbed your toe, hammered your thumb and squirted mustard down your shirt. Guess what: the audience doesn’t care!

Your job is always to put the audience first. No matter what. If you show up with a frown and a slouch, you will not be successful in connecting with your audience. You will not be successful in getting your message across. You will not be successful, period. Furthermore, you won’t be invited back, you won’t be referred to other organizations, and you won’t get that positive word of mouth that’s so critical for a speaker.

So suck it up. Be passionate even if you don’t feel passionate. Engage your audience even if you want to curl up in bed with a box of tissues. It’s your responsibility to give everything you’ve got. You’ll feel so much better if you put yourself out there. Maybe not at that moment, but later for sure.

I want to point out that Lisa’s wake up call doesn’t just apply to the folks behind the lectern. It’s also crucial that everyone who makes it possible for the presenter to present needs to be there and as ready to roll as much as possible. Even if you’re fighting the flu, food poisoning, a difficult client or plain, old fashioned, run-of-the-mill, early morning ennui. Sometimes you just need to fake it until you make it.

Don’t forget to visit Lisa’s blog, Speak Schmeak.

Related Resources:

One of the few good reasons for not coming in and giving your all — That Brain-Eating Virus.

Your Turn:

I just installed the shiny new Disqus 2.0 comment system on BML. Why don’t you help break it in by leaving a comment describing a time when you, or someone you know, had to force themselves to not just turn around and go back to bed because of illness or other serious presentation problem.

8 comments to Morning Sickness

  • coachlisab

    Thanks for posting my story, Lee! I’m glad I’ve only had that experience once! I would never want to repeat it.

  • My pleasure Lisa, thanks for sharing it with us. I’ll tweak the intro to indicate you’re not falling ill on a regular basis.

  • I can remember one time similar to this. I was coordinating exhibits on a show in Vegas. On the last day of the exhibits I came down with something beginning about mid-day. We began striking at about 2:30 or so. By the time we got near the end I was bent over in pain and agony and, to put it quite grossly (sorry folks), I had to make several trips to the bathrooms.

    At one point near the end I had to go behind a booth and just lay down and curl up in a fetal ball til it passed. I am pretty sure I was suffering from delirium brought on by a fever.

    But, I had to be there. I was in charge. There was no one else to take my place. We came in the next day and it was a disaster. There was equipment sitting out not in the cases or even near the cases they were supposed to be in. It was crazy. That from all departments though, both Breakouts and General Session were in just as bad a shape as my gear.

    Somehow, in all the craziness and sickness, all I “lost” was the bracket to an Anchor speaker. Not too bad if I do say so myself.

  • Rick: A trade show floor during tear down isn’t a very comfortable place to be when you’re healthy. Must be really nasty when you’re having the kind of problem you had.

    The worse illness I ever had during a trade show was in San Francisco but it was only a really, really bad cold. I was there to make things easy for the sales guys, getting the booth set up, dealing with shipping, etc. But I was also expected to “man” the booth and chat with anyone who stopped by while the sales guys were already engage with other prospects. The show floor was opened in short blocks during during breaks in the conference activities. So basically I crawled back to my room and slept in my suit until it was time to go back. Luckily I was much better by ship out.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • I can remember one time similar to this. I was coordinating exhibits on a show in Vegas. On the last day of the exhibits I came down with something beginning about mid-day. We began striking at about 2:30 or so. By the time we got near the end I was bent over in pain and agony and, to put it quite grossly (sorry folks), I had to make several trips to the bathrooms.

    At one point near the end I had to go behind a booth and just lay down and curl up in a fetal ball til it passed. I am pretty sure I was suffering from delirium brought on by a fever.

    But, I had to be there. I was in charge. There was no one else to take my place. We came in the next day and it was a disaster. There was equipment sitting out not in the cases or even near the cases they were supposed to be in. It was crazy. That from all departments though, both Breakouts and General Session were in just as bad a shape as my gear.

    Somehow, in all the craziness and sickness, all I “lost” was the bracket to an Anchor speaker. Not too bad if I do say so myself.

  • Rick: A trade show floor during tear down isn't a very comfortable place to be when you're healthy. Must be really nasty when you're having the kind of problem you had.

    The worse illness I ever had during a trade show was in San Francisco but it was only a really, really bad cold. I was there to make things easy for the sales guys, getting the booth set up, dealing with shipping, etc. But I was also expected to “man” the booth and chat with anyone who stopped by while the sales guys were already engage with other prospects. The show floor was opened in short blocks during during breaks in the conference activities. So basically I crawled back to my room and slept in my suit until it was time to go back. Luckily I was much better by ship out.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • I can remember one time similar to this. I was coordinating exhibits on a show in Vegas. On the last day of the exhibits I came down with something beginning about mid-day. We began striking at about 2:30 or so. By the time we got near the end I was bent over in pain and agony and, to put it quite grossly (sorry folks), I had to make several trips to the bathrooms.

    At one point near the end I had to go behind a booth and just lay down and curl up in a fetal ball til it passed. I am pretty sure I was suffering from delirium brought on by a fever.

    But, I had to be there. I was in charge. There was no one else to take my place. We came in the next day and it was a disaster. There was equipment sitting out not in the cases or even near the cases they were supposed to be in. It was crazy. That from all departments though, both Breakouts and General Session were in just as bad a shape as my gear.

    Somehow, in all the craziness and sickness, all I “lost” was the bracket to an Anchor speaker. Not too bad if I do say so myself.

  • Rick: A trade show floor during tear down isn't a very comfortable place to be when you're healthy. Must be really nasty when you're having the kind of problem you had.

    The worse illness I ever had during a trade show was in San Francisco but it was only a really, really bad cold. I was there to make things easy for the sales guys, getting the booth set up, dealing with shipping, etc. But I was also expected to “man” the booth and chat with anyone who stopped by while the sales guys were already engage with other prospects. The show floor was opened in short blocks during during breaks in the conference activities. So basically I crawled back to my room and slept in my suit until it was time to go back. Luckily I was much better by ship out.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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