If you speak long enough and often enough, you will occasionally bomb a speech. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and make yourself even stronger for your next presentation.
Early in my career I had been booked to give a speech at a Manhattan political club. It was an election year and the political club's party candidate was the current U.S. President running for reelection. I assumed--as it turns out erroneously--that members of a particular political party would want the incumbent of their own party to be re-elected.
This being Manhattan, everything and everyone is a bit, shall we say, different (I can say this now because I have lived here for a decade). Members of this political club did not find the President from their own political party to be ideologically pure enough (this is something you will find in almost any organization based in New York City).
I gave a speech similar to many presentations I had given around the country. I started by making some jokes about members of the other party. These usual laugh-getters were met with stony faces. Next, I gave a detailed strategy on how club members could help their party's nominee by calling talk radio shows, writing letters to the editor, appearing as guests on TV programs and other media strategies. This was met with looks of pure bewilderment.
With much grumbling in the audience, my speech finally stumbled to an ending.
"Great," I thought, "Now the questions and answers can make up for lost time."
Sure enough the first question comes.
"Young man, how long have you lived in Manhattan and what makes you think you could possible have anything intelligent to tell us?"
This was going to be a long night.
Fortunately (this was a relevant concept at that point), my audience had such contempt for me that they all quickly left the building.
As I was walking home in a snow storm on that April Fool's day, I asked myself, "Where did I go wrong?"
Then I realized that I had made the classic blunder of assuming a one-size-fits-all for my speech. I hadn't done enough homework to find out about the particular concerns of this audience. I had gotten to the event early enough to talk to members one-on-one to find out what they were thinking. I didn't adjust quickly enough once I was making the speech. In, short, I made about every mistake a speaker you could make.
So was the lesson to avoid all public speaking in the future?
The lesson was to find some more speaking gigs quickly and to wow my next set of audiences thoroughly. That's why I did and that's what you can do after your next bomb.
The key is, don't think of your speech as a bomb, think of it merely as a rough draft for your next great speech.
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