Asked to guest teach an hour lecture at church. Love to, said I. Spent time with the content — new to me — and had things all lined up. Perhaps not my best effort, but a winner nonetheless, I figured.Looked in my notebook a bit before class and discovered that… I had left the first two (of five) sheets of my notes at home on the kitchen counter. Good news — pages 3-5 were still in my possession and there was nothing electronic involved. Bad news, my opening notes and the majority of my content was not.Since this was my first time facing this audience, I wanted to excel and do a good job (not that I wouldn’t want to excel to a familiar crowd, but the stakes seem higher with a new one). The temptation every speaker faces in this situation is to start off with a big excuse. “This is my first time teaching this subject and my dog ate my homework…” But then I wouldn’t have had anything to blog about. So I fought it off and just started normally. I dare say no one knew I was winging it.So lesson #1 here is to not use any excuses — the speaker is likely the only one who cares.Lesson #2 would be to have backups of the backup. Prepare for every contingency. Assume things will get lost.Which leads to lesson #3. I have no problems with people who want and need to use notes to speak. Used properly, they help keep the topic on track, help make sure important points are not forgotten, and ease the pressure and tension on a speaker. But even for folks who use notes, the introduction (using a hook of some kind, not “I’m Alan, and I’m here to talk about X” and the close need to be memorized. This is the reason I was missing pages one and two — I was using them to rehearse this morning and left them upside down (practicing without the notes) and didn’t see them to put in my notebook.But because I had my opening down and knew where the entry point into my notes was, it was just a short bit of impromptu to connect the dots. Given my tendency to ramble, the net result was probably BETTER than it had been had the notes been along. I know that a first-time speaker would have had to deal with loads of stress as well (I had about 30 mental minutes to prepare and was remarkably calm), but knowing the opening cold gave at least 5 minutes of confidence going in that we’d start on the right foot. This is also where a few hip pocket interactive elements (quiz, get in groups and discuss, interview,…) can help not only fill the time and content, but geain confidence and provide time to plan some of the gaps.
Know your beginning and your end and major objective(s). The rest is just filling and more easily filled impromptu should something go wrong.