Upstaged on Stage

I remember watching a major country and western star upstaged by the warm-up act. Though the group had finished their set of songs, the audience would not let them leave. They received a standing ovation and deafening applause. When the star came on stage, the crowd response was weak at best and the performer acted as though he were mad at the crowd. He did not handle this well. I give this as a backdrop because I was upstaged quite unintentionally before a recent speech.

Before I spoke, many door prices were passed out to the audience. I was amazed at how many $25 to $100 prizes in the form of tools, appliances, and retail and restaurant gift cards were distributed. Over $1100 in gift cards had been donated by a variety of business establishments in the community.

The person responsible for this bonanza was the executive assistant. She had simply done an outstanding job of getting the business community involved. The audience recognized this. When the master of ceremonies acknowledged her role, the audience immediately started loud applause and a standing ovation that went on for several seconds. The master of ceremonies was ready to introduce me and had a hard time getting the audience to stop applauding and take their seats.

When I reached the stage, I decided to “ride on the coattails” of enthusiasm and good will for her. Instead of beginning with what I had prepared, I began by saying that I had been present for many door prize events surrounding my speeches, but never one so extensive and so lucrative. I asked for another round of applause for this lady and called her by name. Of course the audience was delighted to thank her again. I jokingly said that my university might be hiring her soon to be one of our fundraisers.

Now I was connected to the positive vibes the audience had for Amanda who had done such a great job with the door prizes. I was able to capitalize on that feeling as I began my presentation. I believe one of the reasons the presentation was so well received was their connecting me to the great beginning of the session.

You can never predict what will happen in the events surrounding your presentation. The introduction may be poor, dessert may be served as you are introduced, the public address system may not work, or the background music won’t stop. You can figure out strategies for handling those distractions well. And if you are ever upstaged, remember that “riding the coattails” can help insure the success of your presentation.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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