The Leading Edge: 5 Lessons From The Worst Speaking Gig Ever

Annica Torneryd

What do you do when it goes ALL wrong?

What do you do when you have prepared your speech for months, done your research, interviewed people, and practiced your delivery a gazillion times, standing up, with a hammer acting as the mic, to deliver the best keynote speech ever and it all goes wrong?

Earlier this year, I was booked as the keynote speaker at a French speaking company’s team building day. With months of preparation, I was READY. My 45 minute presentation was destined for success! I had even written up my “knock-it-out-of-the-park-post-it” of the dream scenario and all the great business that would come from it. Reading that note made me grow wings!

I was scheduled to speak just after lunch, but was invited to join them in the morning if I wanted. Oh, YES I wanted. I thought of John’s advice, “Show up early and ask questions, walk slowly through the crowd.” I was the first one there!

The morning hours consisted of their staff doing presentations of their achievements, challenges, and sharing their vision for the coming year. I listened to every word, looked them in the eyes and nodded or smiled when they looked at me. I struggled to understand, as their English was delivered with a very strong French accent.

I enjoyed the moment as I sat there feeling calm and confident, knowing that all the hard work I had put in, was EXACTLY in line with their whole concept (and, I speak English without the French accent). The very powerful mantra from one of my JMT mentors was on repeat in my thoughts: “I was made for this moment.” I felt it and I believed it 100%.

After lunch, it was my turn. The clicker was in one hand, mic in the other, an audience of 37 and the spotlight was on me. Yes, finally! Here’s where my happy ending flew out the window. Three minutes into my speech, I wanted to run out crying.

My introduction received NOTHING; no response, no nodding heads. I was connecting with no one in the audience. Three girls started talking. They were not whispering. They were talking out loud. I saw thumbs scrolling over smartphones. I’m pretty sure the guy in the black shirt fell asleep. This was NOT going as planned.

Every cell in my body wanted to run out of there. I was crying on the inside. I seriously considered saying “I’m not feeling well, sorry!” I wanted to simply walk out of the room and go home to hide.
But somehow, I didn’t. I felt my speaking coach Roddy, as if he was standing behind me, encouraging me to deliver my speech. “Follow through. Do what you came to do.”

I was going to do an exercise with the audience and needed a volunteer to help me. In order to make sure they understood what I asked for, I said in French “OK, we will do this exercise in French.” Nearly everyone’s heads lifted and the crowd cheered “Ouiiii” [yes]!

Oh, my Lord, they’re alive! Hallelujah! I had asked, THREE times, should I deliver my presentation in French, knowing their staff speaks French. But each time I was told “No, no, it should be in English, they all speak English.”

I finished as strong as I could, switching into another language, but I felt like a Gladiator who had been severely injured and beaten. Despite the damage, and thanks to my imaginary JMT-army standing behind me, I was still alive. I closed the speech and forced myself to walk back to my seat to wait until the next break before I left the conference. It was supposed to be a BIG deal for me. Instead, it turned out to be the WORST speaking gig EVER.

Even when it doesn’t go as planned, and we don’t knock it out of the park, we still have the choice to stand tall through the pain and grow into an empowering learning experience.

Five lessons from the worst speaking gig ever:

  1. Be fair to yourself. You are responsible for preparing a great presentation, NOT for the reactions of your audience.
  2. Deliver what you came to do. Prepare as best as you can and follow through.
  3. Be proud of your achievements. Acknowledge that it takes courage and confidence to speak in front of an audience and to face the number one fear in the world: public speaking.
  4. Don’t focus on everything that didn’t go as you wanted. Ask yourself honest questions about what you can do better next time.
  5. Ask for written feedback from your client. Often you’ll find that you’re a little too hard on yourself. Your story is someone else’s light! Don’t let one bad experience stop you. Take a deep breath, let the growth begin, and book your next speaking gig. Enjoy!

About Annica:
Annica Törneryd is the CEO of ACT2exceed and an Author, certified Coach, Speaker and Trainer with the John Maxwell Team. She is an experienced facilitator of The Leadership Game and has played it with people from over 40 different countries to help organizations improve their leadership intelligence, effectiveness, and communication.

Over the past 20 years, Annica has been living and working in five different countries on two continents. From her vast experience of working in multicultural environments she has acquired excellent communication skills. When working with individuals, Annica helps her clients get clarity on both purpose and direction and to create an applicable action plan while overcoming fears that hold them back from reaching their full potential.

She is a volunteer mentor at Dress For Success Luxembourg. She mentors students in the international Young Enterprise Project. She hosted the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day in Luxembourg 2016, celebrating women in leadership positions and female entrepreneurs while raising funds for women in poverty.

“Implementing intentional self-leadership has helped me improve my life multiple times. One of my priorities is selecting mentors with great wisdom, knowledge and expertise, who support me in being and doing my very best.”

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