No Last Page for Rubio! How to Handle a Speech Crisis

What if you get to the last page of your speech and it isn’t there? Public speakers should always have a disaster preparedness plan. This misfortune happened to potential Vice Presidential pick, Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Have a look:

The first advice, of course, is to be better prepared. Make sure you have all your pages. Secondly, have an idea in your mind what you would do if this should occur. Engage in what I call “mind practice.”

Mistakes will happen when speaking. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Never begin a speech without a handy one-page outline in front of you that you can refer to if you lose your place or your train of thought….or (in this case) the speech itself.

People will often judge you more on how you handle the mistake than the mistake itself. In this case, Rubio reacted pretty well initially. His smile was critical. It put people at ease because the audience gets tense when the speaker freezes up. It’s awkward for them and the speaker. Fortunately, an aide had the page. What would he have done without it? Rubio was strapped to the text, reading it word for word. That’s a practice I do not recommend. People can read on their own. They don’t need to be read to.

What was odd was how Rubio just went back to reading the last page after the incident. He seemed like a robot returning to his text. It really highlighted how artificial prepared text can be.

The incident is another re-enforcement of one of my fundamental teaching lessons in speaking — be as natural as possible. A good speech is a conversational engagement with the audience. It’s not a lecture.

Some short video clips on speaking at Grimm Academy may be helpful to you, as well as my speaking book.

The Rubio adventure does raise political questions given the Republicans have criticized Mr. Obama for being the “teleprompter president.” I’ll leave that one for the pundits.

In the meantime, count your pages!

The writer is a professional speaker and award-winning trainer.