Funny Public Speaking Stories
Do you have a funny public speaking story? We’re looking for humorous, wacky, disastrous, or memorable moments in speeches, sales presentations, keynotes, speaking at meetings, toasts, and the like. Send your humorous story now to email@example.com. Stories may be included on The Genard Method's web site or in a book on this topic from Cedar & Maitland Press. We’ll be revising this page regularly, so feel free to check back to read the current funniest stories!
"Disastrous" Public Speaking Story
When I was the Marketing Director for a New York City television station, I became an in-demand speaker. The first presentation I ever agreed to do was on How to Give an Effective Presentation for the MBA students at NYU’s Stern School of Business and I wanted it to be perfect. However, having never done any public speaking, I was quite nervous.
My husband helped me rehearse multiple times beginning a couple of weeks before, until I felt prepared. But I still decided to take notes on index cards to have with me as a reminder tool, just in case I forgot anything.
The day arrived. My husband kindly took the day off from his job to accompany me, knowing I was still very anxious following a completely sleepless night. I remember my heart pounding so hard that he said he could actually see my blouse moving!
When I was introduced, I grabbed my cards, began walking up the three steps to the stage . . . and clumsily tripped and my cards went flying everywhere. There was some nervous laughter in the audience as the professor and I gathered my 23 cards and to my horror, I realized I had failed to number them!
I took my place at the podium, steeled my nerves and began with, “Lesson Number 1 of 'How to Give an Effective Presentation': Make sure to number your notecards!” Everyone relaxed and we all laughed. I then threw the cards on the floor and began my presentation with “Lesson Number 2: Rehearse and know your subject matter so cards are unnecessary!”
Thankfully, I had rehearsed enough and thoroughly knew what I was talking about to give a really wonderful presentation. I used dropping the notecards by explaining that “even experts and seasoned speakers get nervous.” And the final lesson was to inject humor into everything you do and your audience will remember you fondly!
I received a standing ovation and several students told me they thought I had planned the notecard drop as a brilliant and memorable way to begin. I have employed that notecard trick several times, but always on purpose! When I have coached clients who are nervous about public speaking, I share this story and one of them actually did this to put her audience…and herself... at ease!
An Ooops Moment
Hi! I’m Bobbe White and my hair is too!
When speaking in St. Louis, the emcee introduced me this way: “Let’s give a warm welcome to Bobbe Whitehair!” The audience roared! That is, until they realized the emcee’s embarrassment and thought I might have been offended.
Well, his face was fifty shades of white, poor guy. Me? I was laughing too because it was funny! And quite accurate. A speaker’s goal is to get a laugh within the first 15 seconds. His faux pas certainly did and it broke the ice in a good way.
I now have written into my introduction: "Let’s give a warm welcome to a woman whose hair matches her name..... Bobbe White!!" I explain the introduction incident and it helps deliver my first point: laugh at your own expense!
"Where did I lose you?"
I was giving a guest lecture at a local college, and one of the students, who was still dressed in the evening clothes that she probably wore last night, fell asleep in the middle of the room, in the middle of my lecture.
Her head was smack in the center of her desk and when the class was over, and she finally woke up. I asked, "Where did I lose you?"
But the pressure was on! The organizers knew my work, knew my ability to speak in front of huge crowds, and I didn't wanted to disappoint them. In fact, they asked me to do it because there were a lot of important persons and industrial Big Shots, and they wanted the ceremony to be perfect!
Just before going on stage, I decided to make some last minutes changes to my introduction speech. I decided to invert the order of two sentences. So I took a bold pen and drew a HUGE arrow from one sentence to the other. That way, I was sure to see and remember the change. Or so I thought!
I walked to the lectern, cleared my voice, said "Good evening ladies and gentlemen", looked down on my notes, and... nothing! I could not figure out the arrow anymore! I got lost at the first sentence!
I looked up to the crowd, and there they were, 250 people staring at me, with a "are you kidding me?" look on their faces!
So I took a deep breath, raised my notes so everyone could see them, gave them a clear 180 degrees turn, and candidly said "Oh! Now, that's much better!" Everyone laughed, and I went on, but I still don't know how I came up with this solution to hide my fail!
I must say that I have had the experience of brain freeze . . . and I was presenting to the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers! What did I do? I said, "OK, this is a test ... what did I just say?" Then I made a joke of it by saying "you ought to consider how upsetting this type of thing is to the kids!!" So my theory is to admit it and let humor carry the day!
I actually heard a speaker say before he started his presentation, "If you can't hear me, please raise your hand." And then he repeated himself...
Bats in the Belfry
During my first presentation to a University audience, I may have expected butterflies. But what I ended up with was very unexpected indeed.
The presentation regarding lowering medical costs was going well: the room was full, the audience was engaged, the stories were funny, and I was right on schedule. Who would have thought that such a small event can disrupt everything? Then, you may have heard that when you make plans sometimes God laughs.
Suddenly, a piercing scream from the audience disrupted my flow. Next, many participants stood up and began running from the room. Normally, my speeches elicit emotions but this was the first (and hopefully last) max exodus. A small, silent intruder had joined the audience—it was a bat! The bat was swooping around the room, diving and terrifying the audience.
Being the only person at the front of the room made me feel particularly vulnerable, and every loop of the bat’s escapade ended up coming directly at me. After much discomfort I ended up ducking (what's a braver word than hiding?) under the speaker's table until the bat hid behind a bulletin board. He kindly stayed there and allowed me to finish my speech, with assurance from the University that the bat would be safely taken outdoors. Looking back, I’m glad that I speak on health care and wellness, rather than leadership!
“Ladies” and “Gentlemen”
While traveling with a Sister Cities/Chamber of Commerce business-exchange group to Nagaoka, Japan, I was asked to speak after breakfast about marketing in the U.S. Seeing an opportunity to show off my linguist skills, I asked my interpreter how to pronounce the words on the distant signs for “Ladies” and “Gentlemen.”
After practicing to myself, I began my speech with “Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen” in Japanese. This got quite a reaction from the audience. I delivered a killer 20 minutes of marketing wisdom, and sat down to generous applause. I was quite pleased with myself. Only later did I learn how strange my greeting was: One of our hosts gently inquired why I had started my talk with “Good Morning, toilets and urinals.”
What Did You Say?
At a house party, surrounded by public speakers, I was talking to a guy who specializes in wellness topics. “I got a question for you,” I said to him after sipping a glass of Chardonnay: “When I'm flying, my legs swell. I drink a lot of water, but I don't want to give up my glass of wine. What else can I do besides wearing constrictive hose?”
Very excited to share his knowledge with me, the tall guy bent down a bit, and this is what I heard him say: “The next time you fly, pack a pair of golf balls with you in your carry-on. When you're up in the air, remove your shoes, place the golf balls under your feet, and roll.” He stood back up, and I nodded my head.
“Oh, like for circulation, like those Chinese balls you rub in your hands?”
He nodded in turn, and I moved on to talk to someone else.
So the next time I flew, I packed a pair of golf balls, and did exactly as he said. I removed my shoes, and proceeded to position the golf balls under my feet and roll them back and forth. Only it didn't work. The golf balls kept slipping out from underneath. I lost one as it rolled behind me, and the other as it rolled in front of me.
With my seat belt attached, I couldn't reach down far enough--or fast enough-- to catch them. I just watched them roll away. I began overhearing people say, “Hey, did you see that golf ball?” and “There's a golf ball rolling on the floor!” I kept quiet in my window seat and waited for the balls to roll back to me, which they did. I was able to retrieve them when the “Fasten Your Seat Belt” light went off. Then I packed those little balls away, too embarrassed to try it again.
The next time I saw this speaker, we happened to be waiting for our plane at the airport after a conference. When we had a few minutes to chat, I told him what happened. He looked at me and said: “Did you use a sock?”
I said, “What?”
“Did you slip the golf balls into a tube sock?”
The puzzled look on my face must have been a dead giveaway, and he started to laugh. I started laughing with him, once I realized I'd missed an important part of the instructions.
And More From the Friendly Skies
A few years ago there was a flight approaching Glasgow airport in Scotland. The captain was on the speaker and the announcement went something like: “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. We have just started our approach to Glasgow and will be landing in about 20 minutes and . . .OH MY GOD!!!”. . . The mic suddenly went dead. There was complete silence in the passenger cabin. A few minutes later the announcement continued: “Hello again ladies and gentlemen. Sorry about that. Just as I was speaking to you, the stewardess was handing me a cup of coffee which spilled into my lap. You should see the front of my trousers!” A voice piped up from one of the passengers: “That's nothing! You should see the back of mine!”
It was a long, late flight from New York to Los Angeles. A lot of the passengers were sleeping, so when I made an announcement that we were serving snacks, I spoke quietly into the PA mic so I wouldn't disturb everyone. I said we had peanuts, cheese and crackers, granola bars, and Biscoff cookies. I then started serving, but when I reached one lady and asked her what she wanted, I had to burst out laughing when she said, “What the heck--I'd like to try some of your pissed-off cookies!”
I flew a regular route with a regular crew to Salt Lake City that always took us right over the top of the Grand Teton Mountains in Wyoming. The Captain would always point out the mountain range to the passengers as we flew over. One day the co-pilot said to the Captain that the next time we flew over the Tetons, he should tell the passengers where the name of the mountain range originated. The Captain said he wouldn't touch that with a ten-foot pole. I asked him why not, and he said it was far too risky. I said that was ridiculous, and it was nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of, so he invited me to make the announcement when we went over the Tetons. So I did.
I picked up the mike and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are now passing over the Grand Teton Mountain range of Wyoming. These 14,000-foot-tall mountains were first explored by French fur trappers who gave them their name. They must have been lonely for female companionship, because 'teton' is the French word for 'breast', so Grand Tetons actually means 'big breasts'. However, it must have been quite a long while since they'd seen a woman, because, as you can see, there are three major peaks in the Teton range!” I then hung up the mic. Within seconds, every flight attendant was crowding the cockpit saying, “We can't believe you just said that!” I began to worry I'd get in trouble after all, and I asked if the passengers were offended. “Are you kidding?” they said. “The plane is full of French Canadians! They loved it!”
My role as a member of an in-house public relations staff was to develop a series of hard-hitting media questions-and-answers for our executives. We wanted to ensure consistency of message when reporters called.
We sent the materials upstairs for review. What came back from our CFO was a comment written in an “angry” red marker: CHANGE THE QUESTIONS!
Apparently, this executive had adopted an alternative-universe strategy for facing reporters’ questions. But he eventually relented when told that we couldn’t actually tell the journalists to rephrase their questions.
The moral? Good preparation always will help an organization deal with crises, even if you have to massage egos a little bit along the way.
Sometimes, written communication may never make it to spoken communication:
As the president of a small firm which I founded 16 years ago, I’ve had a few surprises. I include in that category responses from job candidates who submitted ill advised cover letters with their resume. Here are some “disqualifying” comments I received:
Can I work from home or if not can you please let me know the address of workplace?
I would like to expand my knowledge and experience in marketing, whether by actively playing a role or by viewing managers working in these areas.
You will ask me why a person abroad USA would like to work in the United States. Shortly, the answer is: The most important and vital for me is my friend, he is working in the States and I wanna be together with, but the working place is not important. It could be New York or San Diego or other state but priority on the first two of course, somewhere else it doesn’t matter.
I also plan to return to school shortly for my Masters in Fine Arts (MFA) and of course, this calls for an increase in finances as college tuition has risen substantially.
When asked why I want to work in advertising, I answer simply, to make the world a better place.
I once gave a speech on marketing to a group of contractors. They met in a divey bar. I noticed that the men's room was decrepit—so I threw away my planned opening.
Instead, I started, “How many of the men here have used the bathroom tonight? And how many of you saw the marketing opportunity for contractors in there?” . . . After that, I could say anything I wanted; they paid attention!
Who Wears the Pants in the Family?
As for the question, “Who wears the pants in the family?” – See Stephanie Angelo’s video
Fly on the Wall
I wish I was a fly on the wall in the lecture room during a Texas seminar where I presented a couple of years ago. After I finished speaking, I walked out of the room, and without realizing it, forgot to mute my mic! I had more important things on my mind: heading directly into the ladies room! (can you see where this is going?)
Soon after the next speaker began his presentation, he and the audience became distracted by some strange noises heard over the sound system. It started with some rustling...followed by the flush of a toilet, running water, a faucet and then silence. Once everyone realized just what was happening, they let out a roar of laughter that could be heard everywhere within ear shot.
My husband (who was in the lecture room) flung open the door, came to my rescue and pulled my mic off, explaining that I managed to invite the entire audience into the ladies room with me! Fortunately, my bathroom visit was . . . uneventful. I was marched back into the lecture room (wearing a VERY red face) where I was met with roars of laughter and a standing ovation! The audience thanked me for the diversion from “standard” lectures. And of course, everyone said they were happy to know that I washed my hands.
I once made a comment during a lecture that, “My husband has some great new equipment and he kept me up all night!” I was referring, of course, to his new video camera purchase. But the audience's minds were already too far in the gutter.
I speak about hummingbirds, a topic popular with every audience I've ever had a chance to speak before. After each presentation I am gently mobbed by people with a personal story they want to share, or a question they’ve always wanted to ask. The stories are usually interesting, but the questions are mostly predictable.
One keeps recurring so often that I devised a potent response. The question is: “Is it true that hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese?” The scientific explanation I used to give, as to why it could not be true, eventually bored me. Now my response is: “We have examined that phenomenon closely. And it isn’t true. What actually happens is the hummingbird carries the goose in its talons.”
It usually takes a moment before the questioner realizes they’ve been had. At that point, I explain why it's just a myth and has no basis in fact. Then we all have a good laugh.
When I'm tired, I get a little verbally dyslexic. I had been preparing a guest lecture on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) and sustainable materials for a senior class at a local university. It was my first time presenting to college students, and I had worked extra hard to make it interesting and fun.
When I came to the section on sustainable forestry, I inadvertently flipped some spelling in my head. Instead of discussing “lumber yards,” I found myself talking about “Yumber Lards.” Typically, I would have corrected myself and kept going. But the words “Yumber Lard” really struck me as funny, and I had to pause for a few moments and laugh before I could continue with my presentation. Some students laughed too, while others thought I was crazy. Either way, it was definitely a memorable presentation!
Embarrassing moments are an occupational hazard for speakers. Isn't that why so many people are so deathly afraid of public speaking? But embarrassing moments can often make a presentation more successful rather than less.
I was doing my “Filling the Glass” keynote for a convention that happened to be at a hotel where I'd worked before and knew the manager. He was a somewhat shy but extremely conscientious individual. Though this was normally a great venue, they were having one of those days. Everything that could go wrong had: wrong room set up, not enough seating, wrong A/V, a sound system that kept cutting out, a microphone with a cord so short that it kept me tethered in one corner of the platform. The meeting planner and I spent the 90 minutes before the presentation trying to get the situation straightened out, with little success. The hotel had also posted the wrong room on all their meeting boards and on the in-house TV, so people kept dashing in late.
I turned the problems into a running, self-deprecating joke at my own expense. That generated a lot of sympathy. So the keynote came off well, and I got a great ovation. Then, as scheduled, I went out into the hallway to sign copies of my new book. When the doors opened, I saw that, in atonement for all the problems, the manager had supplied a large assortment of pastries and fruit and ordered a huge pyramid of champagne glasses set up.
A chef dressed in white was standing on the table next to the glasses. As we watched, he began to fill the topmost glass with champagne. It filled and overflowed, the champagne cascading down and filling the glasses on the levels below. While the entire convention gathered around him, he poured bottle after bottle into the top glass, and eventually filled every glass from top to bottom.
Then the hotel manager himself appeared before the pyramid. Obviously a bit embarrassed, somewhat flustered and unused to public speaking, he nevertheless called for everyone's attention. He made a short but gracious speech apologizing for the day's problems, assuring the group that the hotel was at fault rather than the association or the speaker. He got a laugh or two, and as his remarks went on he seemed to gain confidence. He added a few very kind words about me, probably in atonement, and concluded with a flourish: “Since the title of Barry's new book is Filling the Glass, I'd though it would be appropriate to fill all your glasses with champagne. So let’s raise a glass to the success of the conference and the book!”
Then, caught up in the moment, he grabbed the first glass his hand encountered. Unfortunately, it was near the bottom of the pyramid. There was a quick gasp from the crowd, a millisecond of complete silence, and a cascading sound of breaking glass and spilling champagne.
At least the pastries were delicious. By the end of the break, everyone had forgotten and forgiven the earlier problems. From that point on, in fact, the manager and the hotel were looked upon with nothing but affection. More important, the group was energized: a coherent whole rather than the collection of strangers. They all had the perfect conversation starter for their networking.
Embarrassment came quite a bit closer to home when I was on stage at a Los Angeles hotel, finishing up a keynote at an awards dinner for about 400 salespeople. The audience and I were in formal dress, and just as I was concluding my session, I noticed for the first time that I'd neglected to pull up the fly on my tuxedo pants. What was worse, the audience noticed me noticing it.
I quickly put on a face of comic surprise, and everyone roared. Then, as the laughter died down, I leaned against the podium, nodded knowingly, and said: “Remember the sales strategies we're discussed this evening. Remember all the tips and tactics. But above all, remember that none of them mean a thing . . . unless you remember to close.”
I got a standing ovation. And for the rest of the evening, people were discussing whether or not I'd planned the whole incident.
I was a corporate trainer for years. I’m a bigger girl, up top and on the bottom. In one class, I wanted to say, “I have some tips and hints for you, ” as I’ve said a million times in my career. Instead, I said, “I have some tits and hips for you. ” Not exactly what I meant.
Make Lemonade Out of Lemons
A number of years ago, pre-PowerPoint, I was asked at the last minute to address a group of law office technology managers. I needed a presentation quickly concerning the trends in technology. So I borrowed a set of glass slides from one of our senior technology guys and headed to Minneapolis.
I had a printout of the presentation in hand and planned to review the presentation on the flight. I took the printed copy of the presentation out of my briefcase and placed it in the seat pocket and then fell asleep. Naturally, I left the presentation in the seat pocket when I deplaned.
That evening, I spent many hours holding the slides up to a light in my hotel room, realizing very quickly that the entire presentation was loaded with acronyms that I didn’t recognize. The actual presentation went well, however, because every time an acronym came up that I didn’t recognize, I made it a contest with the audience to define the acronym. That’s making lemonade out of lemons.
I am an author, radio show host, and motivational speaker. I mostly speak to moms and women in business groups about finding inner peace even in the midst of poopy diapers and piles of laundry. I have that unique pleasure of sharing stories with my audience about how I once had to pee in my child's diaper when there was literally no other alternative; about how I once had to sit in a poopy bath with my sleeping infant for 10 minutes until my husband returned from jogging and could help me with the situation; and about how I bathed my toddler in a movie theater restroom because he had such an enormous explosion. It's not the typical stuff you expect from your business meeting and it can be quite shocking. But it all works extremely well to illustrate how we can handle challenging situations in ways that do more than just “get us through,” but leave us grateful for them with a “bring it on” attitude.
Swear Not to Rat on Shirley
Whenever I start a speech (locally), I have everyone raise their right hand and repeat after me: “I , So-and-So, swear not to rat on Shirley if she says naughty things about her siblings.” (It’s rare for my brother to go somewhere and NOT run into someone he knows, just like our father.)
The audience members swear, giggle a bit, and look at me strangely. Then I begin my speech about being primary caregiver for my Mother for nearly 20 years—with almost ZERO help from the siblings. At this point I remind the folks in the room they took an oath not to rat on me to my siblings. I ask if they remember that and does it make sense now? They laugh out loud while nodding their heads YES!!
One needs to insert humor into a speech—not necessarily a joke, but something that relates to the topic works wonderfully!
That's What Teamwork is All About
This one goes back a ways, but as a speaking story it's one I'll never forget: Years ago, when I was a young and very green PR guy at Southern Illinois University, I got acquainted with Oscar Koch, the retired brigadier general who'd served as G-2, the top intelligence officer to Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., through World War II. He lived there in Carbondale, the home of his wife Nan. I knew none of his history, but found him to be a modest, gentle, intelligent and caring man and we came to be good friends. Eventually he asked me to collaborate on a book and we undertook what became G-2: Intelligence for Patton (still in print after forty years).
Gen. Koch was a Rotarian and early in our work he was asked to speak on the importance of intelligence in the Patton commands at a meeting of the Carbondale Rotary Club. He invited me to be his guest. I enthusiastically accepted. Then he said, “I want you to be there to support me. You sit over on one side and every few minutes nod your head yes, like you agree with everything I say.” “But general,” I said, “you're the world's foremost expert on this topic. How could my support possibly add anything?” “I don't care,” he said. “We're a team and intelligence is a team activity. That's the way we did it in Patton's briefings. No matter who made the presentation, the others sat alongside and nodded support. That's what I need you to do.”
Gen. Koch made a supberb presentation to his fellow Rotarians, of course, and I dutifully sat at the side of the room nodding my head. I felt somewhat foolish and hoped nobody noticed. But the general noticed. “Thank you,” he said after the meeting. “You made me feel like I was back in the G-2 tent reporting to Patton. That's what teamwork is all about.“ I still feel rather foolish about it—but immensely proud to have been asked.
And even more Funny Stories!
I got booked to do comedy at our local county fair, which I should have realized was not a good fit, given that I do somewhat cerebral humor about being a suburban working mom, and there were more tattoos and body piercing in the crowd than I knew existed in California! My stage shared bleachers with the pig races, but the stands were full, so I figured at least I’d have a good audience.
However, right before I started, they announced that the mother of the pig race winner (Lindsay Lo-Ham) was in the livestock tent about to give birth. The stands immediately cleared out, and the only audience left besides my husband & teenage sons was a woman with several children. As it turns out, she wasn't there to watch me, but needed a place to nurse her baby, very openly. Needless to say, my sons weren't very interested in my show!
For nearly 10 years I served on the faculty of Daniel Webster University in Nashua, NH, as an adjunct instructor of public speaking. One of the early assignments in the course was for students to present a speech to demonstrate a skill or process using audio-visual aids. One enterprising student chose as his topic a demonstration of how to make fortune cookies. He gave out copies of the recipe, explained the steps, mixed the batter from pre-measured ingredients, and rolled out the dough. I was impressed with the advance planning and preparation that went into the speech, but never more so than when he passed out samples of cookies he had already baked in the dorm kitchen.
The one I received contained the following fortune: “You are about to give a student an A on a speech.” He got his A!
Just Let Go
I have presented my smoking cessation and weight loss seminars to just about a million people. There is one memorable night in Texarkana, TX that stands out.
After about a half hour of lecture, I had a hundred or so people lie down on the floor for an eyes closed hypnosis session. I was about two minutes into the eyes closed portion of the presentation and the room was pin drop quiet. You could only hear the sound of my voice.
I said something like the following: “And now you can allow yourself to relax, unwind and just let go.” Right after I said, “let go,” one man passed the loudest amount of gas that you could ever imagine. All I could see and hear was 100 bellies going up and down and the sound of stifled snorting. It took all of my skills to recapture the group's attention and get them refocused on what we were there for. No one in that room will ever forget that night.
For 10 years I wrote job-search guides and thus did a lot of speaking. At one session, I had a man stand up unexpectedly, extend his entire arm at me and declare, “You are NO good. I have come to hear you three times and I still don't have a job.” I have since written other books, and I counsel small publishers and authors about their marketing communications. I always mention that they need to be prepared for the unexpected.
Roll With It
Many years ago I traveled from DC to an eastern Long Island community hall to speak to an insurance industry group. There were several hundred people in attendance, and I was fairly young and nervous about the event. A few minutes into my presentation, I was interrupted by a loud bang. Then another. Then another... There was a bowling alley in the building! I quickly learned the rhythm of the bowling balls hitting the lanes, and I made it through the presentation with a few laughs. That roll-with-it attitude earned me more appreciation from the crowd than my speech probably would have on its own.
Believe It Or Not
Here’s the story, all true!
Junior Achievement is an educational program that provides a variety of different opportunities for businesspeople to teach young students about the business world. I taught a 6-week class (once a week) in a junior high school (Orlando, FL) for 7th grade students, and each week I spoke on an aspect of business, i.e., financial planning, marketing, etc. I tried to make every presentation very upbeat and fun, and I decided it would be interesting to take the students on a field trip to really SEE first-hand the complexity of a large business operation.
A major hospital was near the school, and it was an ideal location for my purpose. Across the street from the hospital was a Wendy’s. I arranged the field trip for a weekday morning and the plan included lunch at Wendy’s at 11:30 am (the timing was to beat the crowd); all was coordinated perfectly.....The field trip day arrives. The school bus takes the students and chaperones to the hospital. We arrive and break into a few groups with individual tour guides, hospital workers presenting all the ins-and-outs.
My group gets on an elevator. Along with my group, a hospital bed is wheeled in with a DEAD BODY in a body bag! Of course it was easy to tell what was in the bag. To try to break the tension, I calmly said to the students, “This is not usually the way a hospital visit ends. Most people leave well.” I could have DIED! So the hospital tour continues and concludes. All of the student groups reconvened in the dining area to re-board the bus.
Well, we’re all sitting in the dining room and waiting and waiting and time is passing. I said to one of the hospital employees, “What are we waiting for? We need to get on the bus.” This is the answer: “Oh, you haven't been told? The hospital is surrounded by police. We're in a lock down. There's a guy running around the parking lot dodging cars threatening to commit suicide.” Now what am I suppose to tell the kids???? I already had to “defend” a dead body. I nonchalantly told the entire group there was a delay with the bus. Well, finally, the guy killed himself. Then we had to wait for the “clean-up crew”.....The bus was eventually allowed to drive up to a back exit, where everyone boarded the bus ... and the students never knew a thing about the suicide. We, of course, arrived at Wendy’s late, and the manager was none too pleased. But I explained what happened, and that was that.
I was giving a presentation at a BBB breakfast networking meeting when someone said that a car was rolling down the slope of the parking lot. They gave the license plate number: no one recognized it. It was several minutes into my presentation when someone gave a description of the car that I realized, to my horror, that it was mine. I dashed out into the parking lot to see that my car was very close to hitting another car. I got in and parked it correctly, making sure the parking brake was on securely, then went in to continue my presentation with a very red face and feeling very embarrassed. I made a few jokes about the episode, continued on and was very glad to have the whole thing over with.
I was asked to present a 90-minute database programmer productivity session in many cities in Asia; starting in Singapore and ending in Taipei. All along the route, the conference promoters indicated there were no language translation issues or requirements; English and the programming languages of the products I was speaking about, dBase and Clipper would be enough.
Throughout Asia the presentations went exceedingly well; the turnout was phenomenal and the venues and presentation technology was extremely advanced with multiple large projection screens and high-quality audio-visual systems. In addition, the quality and depth of questions demonstrated deep understanding of the technologies and mastery of the English language.
When we arrived in Taipei, as was customary, I presented first. Also as customary, I started my session with a few questions to get to know the general knowledge and programmer demographics of the audience. It went something like this:
“How many of you use Ashton-Tate’s dBASE?” (On asking the question, I raised my own hand.) The Taipei audience was almost unanimous in raising their own hands. I continued.
“How many here use Nantucket’s Clipper compiler for dBASE development?” (Again, I raised my hand first.) And once again, nearly 100% of the attendees raised their hands.
“How many of you use dBRIEF, the most productive editing system for dBASE programming?” Amazingly, nearly everyone in the audience raised his hand! Either I was staring at 700 copyright infringers who unabashedly proclaim their theft in public, or I was simply engaged in a monkey-see, monkey-do early morning exercise program for my right arm and 700 or so other arms. In a blink, I knew exactly what to ask next:
“How many of you want to be a fire engine?” Fearfully, I watched as everyone’s hands went up. I might as well have been speaking to an alien society from Alpha Centauri-nearly 100% of the audience spoke Chinese, and only Chinese. It was very easy to see who in the auditorium spoke English, since they were the ones practically rolling on the floor laughing.
When Everything Goes Wrong
I had one recently where I was to speak at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota. When I checked into the hotel where the event planner had booked me, the hotel wouldn’t use the card used to book the room from the event planner. So I had to use my card to check in, which is fine because I knew they’d get it squared away with me. But I was speaking for free at this event and I really didn't care to potentially lose any money on the engagement.
Not only did the hotel force me to use my card, they wouldn't give me the special rate originally booked because I didn’t have the “form.” So my room rate was three times what it should have been and for the amount of time I was staying there the bill was over a thousand dollars!
When I pulled up to the Ritz, the man at the gate instructed me to let my truck be taken by the valet. I asked if they take credit cards and he said no. I asked about ATM’s nearby but he did not know. I think he could tell I “wasn’t from around there” and told me that there are very limited parking spaces the valet don’t use and that if I can find one of those I was free to take one. I got one. As I was getting my computer and other stuff out of my truck, I saw what my contact described as her car a few spaces away from where I was parking. She had done the same thing. And she was also just getting out of her car.
I decided it would be better to meet her without my hands full of my speaking stuff. So I put everything back into the truck real fast, closed the door and went over to meet her. When I came back to the truck, I quickly found out that I had locked the doors. I reached for my keys and realized I had put them in my bag. I had locked myself out of the truck, and no spare key!
My contact was very nice about my embarrassment as we went into the hotel. I asked the hotel manager if there was a local shop that could come to the site and get me back into the truck. He called someone the hotel had used before. It was about half an hour before I was to speak and the locksmith had just shown up. As soon as the doors were unlocked I was grabbing my stuff when the hotel manager came up and said he’d take care of the locksmith. “You focus on your speech, you’re probably nervous about it now, I’ll cover this.” I was very grateful.
With only a few minutes before the event was to start, however, my Mac wouldn’t hook up to their projection system. I didn’t have any other cable to make that happen, and neither did the hotel. Again the hotel manager came through and called an IT person and they tried to help me. Nothing worked. So one of my contacts had a portable USB memory stick and I transferred the slides I was going to use to it and then we used the event’s computer. And to top that off one of the contacts had to manually hit “next” on her computer to change the slides.
There was rain coming and the event planner asked me to cut the speech a bit short for the people to leave before it rained. I did, but not really on purpose. When I was speaking I had gone by memory and my memory failed. I blew through a half hour speech in about 10 minutes. When at the end I realized I left out a major part of my talk, I opened up the audience for some Q&A. At first there was no one willing to ask a question. I nudged them a bit and finally got them asking. Eventually the questions took on a life of their own and the event went over the time limit and ran late!
Hard to Balance It All
Several years back, I was asked to give a speech to a room full of budding women entrepreneurs. I arrived at the event with a terrific speech, looking quite stunning in my navy blue suit. Just before my speech began, as I was talking with the emcee who would introduce me, I looked down at my shoes to see that I had one blue and one black shoe on. At first, I was embarrassed––but then decided to put it in my speech.
At the end of the speech, I reached down, took off my shoes and put them up on the podium for all to see. I reminded the listeners that every one of us is working hard to balance it all. Sometimes we get it all right, but we still don't manage to put on a matching pair of shoes! It was the greatest laugh I have ever gotten
... And here’s one of my own:
Carry a Compact
Some years ago, when I was the International Student Advisor in the Department of Communication at Emerson College, I taught a summer course entitled “Introduction to Graduate Studies.” Emerson’s campus is across the street from the lovely Boston Common. Kitty-corner to the park is a Starbucks, where I’d go before class to have a coffee and look over my notes.
Since this was a summer course, the day was hot. With the front door being opened frequently, the interior of the Starbucks wasn’t very cool even with the air conditioning on. I had to keep mopping my forehead with napkins as I sat and prepared for my lecture.
The lecture went fine. It was only in the men's room after the class, that I discovered I had a large piece of paper napkin stuck to my forehead! The international students--undoubtedly trained in their universities to be deferential to professors--had sat through my lecture without a wayward look or a snicker. Since then, I carry a small women’s compact in my pocket and always check it before “going on.”