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Kate Atkin

Have you ever said yes to something which seemed a good idea, but when the time came you started to view it differently?

A year ago I missed the entry deadline into the Corporate Speaking Challenge run by the School of Public Speaking. So I gaily said “put me down for next year”. Well those twelve months passed and I forgot all about it until a few weeks ago when I got an invitation to attend the heats and prepare a 6-minute speech on the theme of “everything needs to change, so that everything can remain the same”.

THE day arrives. The nerves start to kick in, even though I had prepared and practiced my speech. “Why am I doing this?” I wonder to myself…

Two days before the contest I decided to set myself an evening reminder for something unconnected, by way of a daily alarm on my phone. I chose to use a song rather than an alarm sound thinking this would be a good idea, and then promptly forgot about it. After all that’s the point of a reminder!

Back to yesterday evening… at Mintel’s offices in the City of London.  Phones are on silent, check! And double check! Ten participants, and I was speaking fourth. It comes to my turn to speak. As I am part way through the second of three points in my speech, a story about change in the British mining industry, strains of Enya are heard in the room, gradually getting louder. Yes, you’ve guessed it my alarm was interrupting my speech. What would you do?

The chap sitting near my handbag realised where the offending noise was coming from, so I had a choice. Do I carry on and ignore the noise, do I ask him to turn it off, or do I turn it off myself? Well carrying on wasn’t going to work, I was distracted and had lost my thread and my audience were distracted.  Asking a stranger to rummage in my handbag didn’t appeal, so I opted to have the bag passed to me and turned it off myself.

Interruptions happen all the time; speeches don’t always go to plan. It’s how you deal with the matter that is important. I have never interrupted myself before, and said as much to the audience, with an apology. I then paused, regrouped my thoughts, ditched a good chunk of my speech as I had lost valuable time during the incident, quickly finished my third point and jumped to my conclusion. Finishing just on the allotted 6 minutes.

So often in business we need to deal with the unexpected. Things don’t go to plan. You need to change course or miss something out. How do you deal with it?

If no-one had noticed I could have ignored the alarm and carried on. But it was obvious to others that there was something going on, and it had also put me off my flow, so I needed to “call it out”. Once named, and dealt with using a little bit of humour, the big task was to pick up where I had left off. The only reason I could do this was because of the upfront planning I had put in to writing, preparing and practising my speech.

The old adage of know your beginning and your ending held fast for me yesterday. I was able to jump to my conclusion… And still finish on time, just.

So was it a good idea? It seemed so at the time, and I am through to the finals.  Hopefully next time I’ll be able to deliver my speech without interruption!