Although our new book, ATTENTION! The Art of Holding Your Audience in the Palm of Your Hand, goes into great detail about the importance of preparation, you may not always have adequate time for such thorough preparation before you give a speech. For example, someone gets sick, or there’s a death in the family, or a snowstorm cancels flights and the speaker can’t get to the program. You are called at the last minute to fill in. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Don’t tell the audience you are a replacement unless the other person’s name is on the program. If they do know who was expected, furnish your introducer with an introduction that makes your stepping in at this point seem like a great bonus. If the audience knows you are a last-minute substitute, they may think you did not prepare at all. You have something to say or you would not have been called in to substitute. Because of your expertise, you could even have better content than the missing speaker.
Since you did not have several weeks to prepare, choose material for your presentation that you are most familiar with. Without time to research the latest on your topic, be careful to avoid unsupported assertions or information that may be out of date.
Take a couple of minutes when the program chair asks you to speak to learn about the audience. Ask these two questions. “What is unique or unusual about this group?” and “What do you want to happen as a result of my presentation?” This information will help you adapt on the spot.
Include more examples than technical information. Examples are much easier to remember and do not require as many notes as data requires. With a trigger word or phrase on a note card, you can relate the narrative.
Don’t cover too much. Without adequate preparation you want to limit content to what you know best. For example, the area I speak on frequently is communication. If I have little time to prepare, I will probably limit my subject to stage fright. How to deal with stage fright is a topic people often ask me about and one on which I have a lot of background.
Finally, don’t make excuses. You will be tempted, when you get to a point where you know if you’d had more time to prepare you could be more specific or more detailed, to say, “Since I was given this assignment only yesterday, I did not have time to research this adequately.” Don’t! People don’t want to hear excuses.
You don’t have to be seen as a second-choice speaker if you don’t tell the audience and encourage the introducer also not to tell. Follow the points in this article and you will be the well-qualified and well-prepared speaker—even on short notice.
by Stephen Boyd