Kool Derby

During a recent event, the speaker stated to the audience that he apologized for appearing nervous and ill-prepared for the presentation. Until he mentioned that he appeared nervous, I thought he looked quite confident. In fact, he had more than 30 years of experience in the industry, and speaking before a friendly audience should have been easy.

In the first five minutes, the presenter told us that the original speaker was unable to make the event, and he learned of the change only 15 minutes in advance. He was now going to give it his best shot.

When Not Prepared – Get Prepared

I understand the difficulty you experience when you are put on the spot. You are asked to perform with little time to prepare. I’m sure this happens to most people in leadership roles. Even 15 minutes can make a huge difference in preparing for a short speech.

Instead of fretting about the situation, the speaker needs to jot down a few notes regarding his speech. It’s best to keep it simple: introduction, key points, and conclusion. The speaker, on the other hand, decided to wing it, and it showed.

The Problems with Winging It

Speaking before nearly 700 people, the presenter said whatever came to mind, and some of the comments needed, well, refinement:

  • ”The world is falling apart.”
  • “In my past life, I was married.”
  • “I know that I’m just going on and on.”

Lack of a plan increases the chances of making mistakes, and some serious. It doesn’t take much to offend the audience. Some argue that they’re more likely to say what they really mean when they haven’t had the time to prepare.

The world might be falling part, divorce is a real thing, and you know the speaker is unprepared. When you wing it, the message is lost because of the poor delivery.

There is No End in Sight

About 20 minutes into the talk, the speaker stated he was near the conclusion. Many of us in the audience could hardly wait for the time when he walked off the stage. However, since he lacked a plan, he didn’t know how to end the speech.

Nearly 10 minutes later, he was still going. His points were making even less sense, and I’m sure he had a feeling akin to stepping into quicksand. Knowing that his speech lacked substance, he was looking for the home run closing, but he couldn’t find the words to put the bat on the ball.


In total, the speech took about 34 minutes. I know this only because I spent more time looking at my Blackberry than watching the presenter. The speaker stumbled to the finish line with this closing: “We cannot stand on the sidelines anymore.”

Thinking back, his closing statement would have been an excellent title to the speech. If he spent 15 minutes writing down several key points regarding why we shouldn’t stand on the sidelines, and identifying an excellent closing on how to be more proactive, his speech would have traction.

The next time you’re asked to speak impromptu, find a quiet place and jot down a few notes. Get a plan! Never tell the audience you are sorry for being unprepared. The participants come from miles away to hear you present and, at minimum, you should have the professionalism to do your best even when time is working against you.