I was speaking the other night in the first public viewing of a 3-night run. Wanting to get it right the very first time, I’d done private practice and invited some speaking friends to view a trial run. I was still polishing (always am), but had the basics pretty solid. About 75 minutes in to the 2-hour program, a loud crash was following by flickering lights and then a complete power loss. The 150 or so folks in the interior room and I found ourselves in pitch darkness. As in, can’t see the hand in front of your face darkness. Sound system of course died, as did the projector. The laptop, running off AC but also with a battery, did not (thankfully).After a long few seconds, the power came back on. We all waited, it stayed on, we breathed a sigh of relief and continued on. For about 30 more seconds. Then the fire alarm went off followed by a voice saying tornados were in the area and to proceed to an interior stairwell. We didn’t know where that was, but the only thing to do was to dismiss the crowd. We milled about, looking for such a stairwell when an employee came running in to say we were in the safest room on that side of the hotel, and to stay put. Others might join us. We got everyone back in to the room and seated, took a vote and decided to press on. None of the adverse weather was forecast, and came as a surprise to all. We finished up, a bit shaken, and only lost maybe 10 folks who decided to brave the storm to leave. Later newscasts would confirm widespread wind damage, flooding, hail, and power outages. In our interior banquet hall, we were oblivious to it all. That’s probably a good thing.From the presentation side, this is the kind of interruption that is the stuff of nightmares, especially for the first time out of a program. My training and experience (Q: where do you get experience?!) did me well, which is a nice coincidence, since my topic had to do with preparedness in the face of emergencies (aviation topic). Thankfully the program was able to continue, but as we milled out (and then back in), I had already crafted several “exits” should the rest of the program be cut short (as it was, we lost 5 minutes and I continued to completion of the program). I shouldA couple of items not on my checklist that are now:
- Even if you’re running a computer off of a power cord, leave the battery in and charged.
- Scout out the facility and know what you’ll tell a crowd, just in case. Even though I had no association with the hotel and had never been there before, as the speaker people were looking to me for direction.
- Have shortened versions of the presentation at the ready — know what you can omit should the program be unexpectedly cut short
- Don’t bother checking the weather forecast, it likely won’t be right anyway.
Be prepared. For anything.