We all may encounter difficult situations when we may be giving a presentation in front of an audience or even if we are running an important meeting for our clients and colleagues.
So, what do we do when embarrassing situations occur? How can we handle them without losing our temper or feeling lost and embarrassed?
Some of my clients have asked me in the past what can be done when a mobile phone rings during an important speech. I can vouch for this situation personally because it happened to me in the most unfortunate circumstance, during my father’s funeral several years ago. I remember giving one of the most somber and emotional speeches of my life when during the climax of the speech my sister’s mobile phone rings and not a normal ring, but the “who let the dogs out” song ring tone. I am sure you have all heard it before by the band Baha Men and for those of you who haven´t, the ring tone went something like this:
“Who let the dogs out,
Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof ,
Who let the dogs out
Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof…”
If you’re wondering if anyone had asked to please turn off their phones before the ceremony started, the answer is yes, the priest had specifically and kindly requested this action to be taken beforehand. Not only can a cell phone ring during a presentation throw off even the most skilled presenters, but it can also make everyone in the audience shift their focus to the person with the phone. What is worse is not just the phone ringing, but in this case my sister answering it during the eulogy!
You will encounter inconsiderate and rude people in your audience who may do such things, but there are a few ways in which you can prepare for this.
The first as mentioned in my case that the priest had done, is to make sure TO INFORM your audience that all mobile phones should be silenced before the event or presentation.
If you do not have someone introducing, you then you can turn this opening announcement into something fun. I like to mention to the audience that the first person who´s phone rings during the presentation will have to stand up and introduce themselves to the crowd and tell them what their favorite food or color is and why? This can break up the seriousness and I guarantee that no one will want to be picked out of the crowd to stand up and explain what their favorite food or color is!
The second tip is NOT to IGNORE IT. As the pink elephant in the room, all eyes will turn to the person who was reluctant to turn off their ringer during the event. A phone ringing during your speech is impossible to ignore and you have already lost the attention of your listeners, so it may be best to address it. I would generally suggest pausing and using a bit of humor. Perhaps say something like, “Oh, is that for me?” or “That’s just my mom calling to check up on me!” This can make it lighthearted and break up the tension.
If humor is not your style, then there is the suggestion to just PAUSE, STOP and STARE This may be the most aggressive of techniques, but it does send a clear nonverbal message to the person who has mistakenly forgotten to turn off their ringer or the phubber who has disgracefully answered the call during your presentation.
It is important to keep in mind that any accidents can happen and you as the speaker need to approach all of them with humor and as gracefully as possible. The goal is that you want your audience to empathize with you and not sympathize with you. Make the pause, or make them laugh, and carry on.
Karyn Suárez is an Executive Coach and Public Speaking and Communication Trainer. She has been invited on television to discuss topics related to bettering our communication and works with multinational companies in Spain and the USA helping executives and students to improve their public speaking and communication skills both in Spanish and in English.
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