When you present, you know that many things can go wrong. When that happens, give grace to the person responsible. Don’t be a prima donna; go with the flow. Be gracious when circumstances create difficulties in delivering your speech.
This was shown in dramatic fashion this past week-end in the gracious manner with which Rafael Nadal accepted defeat in the men’s tennis finals at Wimbledon. The media went to him immediately after the match and asked him agonizing questions such as, “Do you have any celebration tips for Novak?” (Novak Djokovic defeated Nadal in the finals.) Clearly, Nadal wanted privacy and time to deal with the loss. Yet he patiently answered each question with grace. Writing about this in the Wall Street Journal, Jason Gay said about Nadal, “He smiled. He breezed through a crushing loss with exceptional charm and grace, deflecting pain in a language that isn’t his first.” He thanked the All English Club for making him feel at home. His response to the loss: “I tried my best, as always. Today, one player played better than me. I will try another time, next year.”
What can you do as a speaker to do show grace in a difficult situation? You can anticipate the unexpected so that you are not easily surprised when the public address system gives awful feedback sounds or the dessert comes just as you start your presentation.
Get to the speaking location early so that you can correct difficulties that are correctible. Take a tour of the meeting room. Check to see if the equipment is available that you need to deliver your presentation. Talk to the person responsible for your being present to speak. Ask about any unusual circumstances that you did not anticipate.
Don’t panic if something unexpected happens. In the middle of your speech, the lights might go out. Simply pause for a few moments. Sometimes the lights come back on quickly. Just a few seconds of waiting will give you time to think of what you might say if they don’t come back on.
If the problem is not corrected quickly, have a line you can plug in with any emergency. This might work: “I’m sure this will be corrected shortly. Let’s just give the staff a little time to deal with …” or “We can easily continue on without …”
We usually think of grace as a spiritual term, but it is also an important aspect of gaining the respect of audience members. Your graciousness confirms that you really are a credible source who cares about the principles he or she is discussing.
When you speak, you bring with you information that the audience needs to hear; remember to bring a little grace as well.
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. Visit his site to read other valuable articles on effective speaking and listening.