Lessons From The Olympics

If you watched the Olympic Opening Ceremonies from Vancouver, you probably noticed the problem with the lighting of the Olympic Torch.  According to the plan, four pillars were to rise out of the floor to become part of the torch.  One of the pillars had a mechanical failure and never appeared.  Although it seemed longer, the wait time was more than two minutes as the network narrators began commenting on the situation.  TV hosts said the torch bearers were “all dressed up with no place to go.” 

This situation is not unlike a speaking or performing situation when something goes astray.  Your mind goes blank, a prop malfunctions, or you tell your best joke and nobody laughs.

Time is Relative
Time is measured differently by someone facing a problem during a performance.  When you’re speaking and your mind goes blank for five seconds, it will seem much longer.  That five seconds may not even be noticed by the audience…especially if you don’t draw attention to it.

It’s Your Secret
The torch bearers were wearing ear pieces.  They were told about the pillar problem and to “keep smiling and keep waving.”  It’s the same thing with an issue during your speech.  Keep smiling and the audience may never know.

Avoid Making the Problem Worse
A stage-wait, or an unintentional pause during a performance, demands that you improvise and go with the flow.  Make a “command decision” and move on.  The longer you wait, the more attention it draws to the problem, the more tension it creates, and the more you wait.  The quicker you move forward, the more invisible the problem becomes.

At the Opening Ceremonies, the audience at home with high-definition TVs might see you sweating…but most of the audience in the stadium will never notice.

During a speech when your mind goes blank, if you accept it and move on, most of the audience will never notice.  It’s OK to be human.  Sometimes we forget.  Being honest with the audience is often a good choice.

Throw out the script.
Don’t fall into the trap of being a slave to the script.  If the script calls for four pillars, don’t knock yourself out complying with the script.  If a speech calls for a third point, and you can’t remember what that point is…skip that part of the speech.  The reality is that the audience doesn’t know what’s on the script.  When something happens (no matter what it is), that is what was supposed to happen (from the viewpoint of the audience). 

Improvise and go with the flow.  The improv principle is called “Yes…And.”  Here’s how it works.  You receive an offer (one pillar isn’t working).  You accept the offer and you add to it.  “Yes…we have only three pillars…and we will light them!”  The quicker you “Yes…And” the offer the more seamless will be the performance.  By applying “Yes…And” to a problem, you help to make it a non-issue.    Plan B will appear to be Plan A to the audience.

Learn From Every Experience
Every time you make a mistake, learn from it.  When you see someone else stumble in a speech, learn a lesson from their experience.  And when you see something at the Olympics deviate from the script, be a student.  Ask yourself, what can I learn.  You’ll be wiser and better prepared the next time you take the platform.