I recently needed to have an online meeting while I was at the Oklahoma City airport. While I wouldn’t normally schedule this type of presentation with the knowledge that I would be in a public space, circumstances aligned that this could not be avoided. I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare and after going through security, immediately scouted out where I could have this meeting.
There was a space at one end of the airport that looked promising. There were tables and chairs, and because there were no gates nearby, traffic in and around the area was light. As it was mid-afternoon, the likelihood the airport would get busier soon was small. After deciding no spot could be any more perfect, I setup my computer and at the appointed time, started the online meeting.
Everything was going great until about 15 minutes into my presentation when I noticed a gentleman with a cart stopping close to where I was sitting. It was then I realized, after closer inspection, this was an area designated to be a performance stage. As I was already well into the presentation, there was no possibility for me to move. With one eye on my presentation and the other eye on the guy setting up a guitar, amplifier, microphone, etc., I calculated my chances of finishing my online meeting before he could start playing.
No chance. He was a blues guitarist who had some backing tracks (drums and bass) and there was no way the online participants wouldn’t hear the music. So I lightheartedly told them, “Hey, just so you know, this next part of the presentation is so good I’ve arranged for some live music to accompany it.” I went on to tell them what was taking place and we all had a good laugh. I finished the presentation on a good note.
Nothing can ever be certain or planned. There is always a chance something unexpected will occur. The only thing you have control of is how you choose to deal with it. If you roll with what is occurring and even make a joke about it, your audience will generally appreciate your response.
I do this when I am speaking and a cell phone rings. I might make a comment, “Let them know I am coming up on a really important point, you’ll have to call them back.” This is said in a lighthearted way, with a “twinkle in my eye”, to ensure everyone knows I am not offended by the interruption.
When you can deftly handle interruptions, faulty A/V, or even a great blues musician competing for the audio, how you handle the situation will be very telling to your audience.
Therefore, when unexpected things happen, get creative!
Also published on Medium.