Even Congress needs a presentation coach

One thing a presentation coach will tell you is that you can’t prepare for everything, so be ready to improvise. As you rehearse your remarks, imagine how you would handle losing your place in your speech, the slides failing to work or an unwelcome interruption. No matter how experienced you are, the unexpected will happen.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa experienced that last week, when the ring of a mobile phone interrupted his speech on the Senate floor. What made the moment worse was that it was the senator’s own phone. He fumbled to silence the phone, muttered something to himself and then picked up right where he left off.

Here are a few lessons we can take away from Grassley’s embarrassing moment:

  • Create a checklist of things to do before you speak. Check your slides, review your notes, ensure there is water on the stage and silence your phone. All the advice you receive from a presentation coach is meaningless if you forget to do it.
  • Ignore what you can. If another senator’s phone had been ringing, Grassley might have continued speaking without any interruption. If something isn’t disturbing the audience, don’t call additional attention to it.
  • Handle interruptions with grace and good humor. Ideally the audience will remember your presentation and forget the interruption. If they do remember the interruption, make sure they have a favorable impression of you.

When a ringtone interrupted a music recital at a synagogue in Slovakia, the violist paused briefly and then began playing the tune and adapting it as audience members chuckled. When the musician finished, he smiled and shrugged as the audience applauded.

How have you handled interruptions?


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