Look after the beginning…

I had a speaking engagement tonight and something odd happened.

I had learnt my presentation thoroughly but it overran my alloted time by two or three minutes so I had to cut something from it. Unfortunately I was still undecided as to what to cut up until I was about to go on but then hurriedly made my choice. As I was delivering the speech I was trying to multi task in my head; there was the delivery and then there was the other train of thought that was observing my performance and trying to remember which bit was going to be cut. Mid way through the presentation I improvised slightly (always a temptation) and that slight change in word order threw me off the ‘automatic’ track and stopped the flow of words. I didn’t know what came next. The ‘conscious’ train of thought had to come into play then and try and help me remember. Fat lot of good that was. As the silence extended, the ‘conscious’ voice was trying to negotiate a tactical withdrawal, a cut and run strategy but I came somewhat to my senses and referred to the sheet that was supposed to cryptically jog my memory. Unfortunately I wasn’t cryptic enough with the long list of complex sentences scrolling in front of my eyes like an auto-cue stuck on high speed. I found it impossible to relax sufficiently to read with understanding and I might as well have been scanning a sheet of exotic hieroglyphs from Mesopotamia.

In the end I decided I was going to have to reason my way out of this impasse – what had I last said, so what could possibly come next?
This kind of worked and I came out with the right words but in the wrong order which then started to confuse me about where I was in the logic of my argument.

Eventually I got back on track and slid into my end piece with renewed confidence (mentally letting go of the nagging doubt that I had missed something important out from the speech). The expressions on the faces of the audience members didn’t give anything untoward away so I wrapped up with a flourish to their genuine appreciation.

Afterwards I was talking with some of the audience and apologized for the lapse in my concentration. They looked surprised and said they thought it was all scripted and part of the presentation – ‘assume nothing, so expect the unexpected’ kind of thing.

The irony of it! I had just been thinking to myself I needed a ‘get out’ if that sort of thing happened again and their reaction had given me one; I just pretend it was meant to happen and say something like “don’t assume I’ve learnt this”.

I then remembered a famous musician saying that if he hit a bum note while playing in front of an audience, he would hit the note again to make the audience think he had intended it all along.

The great lesson here was that if you take care of the beginning and the end (which I did), the middle will take care of itself.
Of course I had magnified the incident to several times its actual size in my imagination but it demonstrated that if you deliver your message with enough conviction and energy, one or two errors will be generously ignored.

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