An Embarrassing Public Speaking Moment Taught Me 3 Things

In life and business, there will be times when you fail and times when you’re embarrassed.

Photo: Kevin Getch, founder and Director of Digital Strategy at Webfor; Credit: Courtesy Photo

Even though I speak in front of large audiences on a regular basis, I’ve had my fair share of embarrassing moments.

One of my most embarrassing public speaking moments stands out in particular.

I was invited to present Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz, at the Seattle Interactive Conference. The incident taught me so much about public speaking and being in the limelight as a business owner.

Here are 3 takeaways that put that experience in perspective.


1. Be humble

Before the conference, I had already planned my introduction. I knew most presenters would be reading a script of the speakers’ bios. I decided to go above and beyond and have mine memorized. I didn’t go through my normal routine to prepare for presentations I felt were more important.

On the big day, the stage was ready. A staff member handed me the mic, and I walked out on stage. The audience laughed at my first few jokes, and I was feeling great. But, just as I started introducing Sarah and talking about her accomplishments, I stumbled over my words. My mind went blank.

Even if you present on a regular basis, don’t get over-confident. Every moment you have on stage is a gift of people’s time and attention, so you should never turn it away by preparing inadequately.


2. Bring hard copies of your notes

If you’re not able to commit your speech to memory, have a clear outline printed and easily accessible. Your cell phone is not a good substitute. I learned this the hard way when I forgot my lines when introducing Sarah.

I had my cell phone propped on Sarah’s laptop in case I needed my notes, which I added the night before. I fumbled with my phone, trying to scroll to the right spot on the document, but the pressure of 500+ eyes got the best of me. What came out of my mouth next was a jumble of words. I tried to cut my humiliation short by abruptly ending my introduction: “Let’s give a warm welcome to Sarah Bird!” I felt like a huge failure.

Now, I make sure to have hard copies of everything I may need. In the event that I need to reference my notes, I have it in front of me. Try printing your material in a larger font with extra spacing to make the text easier to see and read. If you’re reading straight from a script, make sure to look up at the audience often to keep people engaged.


3.Learn the presentation format

Before you go on stage, familiarize yourself with how the presentation will proceed. Ideally a rehearsal will take place prior to the event. If not, be sure to ask the staff what is expected of you.

When Sarah and I first stepped onto the stage, I noticed there were two comfy chairs and a little coffee table in the middle. That led me to assume the presentation was an interview style.

After Sarah began her speech, I turned and sat in one of the two seats behind her. Sitting there with the light shining on the two of us, I got that feeling in my stomach — I’m not supposed to be sitting on stage.

“What should I do?” I wondered in a panic. After about 10 seconds of internal debate, I got up and walked off stage in the middle of Sarah’s presentation. Had I talked to the staff beforehand, I would have known what to do after introducing her.



Final thoughts

The simple fact of the matter is that embarrassing moments happen to the best of us. In life and business, there will be times when you fail and times when you’re embarrassed.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from that day, it’s that you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable in order to succeed.


This article has been edited.

Kevin Getch is the Founder and Director of Digital Strategy for Webfor, a web development and marketing agency focused on delivering enterprise-level digital marketing and web design expertise to small- and medium-size businesses. He started his career in marketing over 14 years ago and enjoys speaking at industry conferences as well as volunteering his time by serving on the board of directors for SEMpdx (as the Marketing Director), a non-profit organization focusing on fostering education in the search marketing industry. He was also recently honored (2014) as a recipient of the Vancouver Business Journal’s prestigious Accomplished and Under 40 award. Connect with @kevingetch on Twitter.


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