Speakers Gone Crazy!

There may not be as much skin as in the "Girls Gone Wild" series, but there is drama nonetheless in today's dramatic and riveting episode of "Speakers Gone Crazy."

I tell my public speaking students that they must be ready to adjust their talks at a moment's (if even that much) notice and yesterday gave me the opportunity to practice what I preach. My friend Pam Cable and I were invited several months ago to speak at a celebration for Women's Equality Day, hosted by the Commission on the Status of Women in Greensboro. We were asked to prepare an hour and fifteen minute presentation.

When we got to the event and looked at the program we saw we were scheduled for an hour. No big deal. Then breakfast started late, which meant the keynote speaker started (and ended) late. The day was then supposed to be divided into morning speakers, 15 minute break, afternoon speakers.  The people who spoke before our session went WAY over time limit. They blew through the break period and went right on talking up to the start time of our presentation, with no indication they had any intention of stopping.

I was livid. More so at the event organizer than the speakers. How hard is it to step in and say, "I'm so sorry to cut you short when you have such wonderful information to share, but we need to take a quick break and start our next sessions. Let's have a big round of applause for...." ?  Didn't happen.

We were scheduled to start at 11 and at ten after I left the room and found the event chair who was in the foyer.

"Are we cancelling the afternoon sessions?" I asked.

"Oh. No. We just got a little late start but they'll start soon."

"Really?" I asked. "Because the speaker in our room just launched a 10 minute video presentation." 

Eight minutes into the video the chair came in and signalled them to cut it off.  And so finally, with 35 minutes left in the day, Pam and I started our speech.

And it was fine. Both of us thankfully are able to go with the flow and we got the main points across and had a fun time. But I find it inexcusable on the part of the chair to have let matters go the way they did, and the only reason she stopped the session when she did is that I went out and got her.  Pam and I volunteered to do this and each of us probably put in 4 hours of prep time, getting the handouts and information ready.  There was no apology for wasted time, no acknowledgement that things could have been handled better.

I went home and was telling Blair what happened and he grinned and said, "This is why men still rule the world." He was kidding, but I'm frankly inclined to find some truth in the matter.  This is how a group of women wanting to celebrate women run the event? It's too bad, because there were great speakers with great information there. And chances are strong I'm much more bothered as a presenter than I might of been as an attendee (although  maybe not--I'm pretty anal about start/stop times all the way around). =)  But in the end everything turned out okay, we delivered the talk and went on with our lives.

And it was a good lesson that even when you're handed a prescribed length of time to talk, always be prepared to extend or shorten on the spot.