“Expect the Unexpected”       

Issue 23

By:  Ron Brounes       

March 1999


The other day I participated in a conference sponsored by a client, and attended by a host of professionals from the financial services industry.  I had been asked to deliver that all important lunch address, which is definitely the most significant aspect of any conference.  The talk was supposed to contain some “light-hearted” dialogue to get the attendees over that post-lunch time hump and prepare them for the technical afternoon sessions.  The speech represented an outstanding opportunity to utilize some of that valuable advice previously offered in past “For What It’s Worth” issues.  Familiar inspiring topics like “searching for Eunice Brounes,” the “stepping out of the box” elevator theory, and “a generation of speechless communications” were all included.  Unfortunately, my niece was not available to speak.  Her fees were far more expensive; plus, she had a geography test that day.  In any case, I was somewhat concerned that after a big meal, a few of the attendees would dose off and miss my “words of wisdom.”  As it turned out, that was the least of my worries. 


As I approached the podium and attempted to calm the rousing standing ovation which accompanied my introduction, a loud “BOOM” was heard throughout the room.  Immediately I thought of falling to the ground, fearful that a deranged competitor may have gotten word of my appearance.  We all soon realized that the hotel had experienced a power outage and the building would be without electricity indefinitely.  (Still, I may consider a bullet-proof vest in the future.)  Luckily, I knew the speech very well and was able to continue without much problem.  Unfortunately, despite their best efforts to fight it, a few attendees were quickly snoring in the audience.  This time, I could blame the darkness.


The speaker who followed me was left with a major dilemma.  Besides receiving that uncomfortable time slot following such an accomplished orator, he now had to deliver a presentation that was heavily reliant on a “Power Point” slide show and video demonstration.  The “powers-that-be” huddled together, trying to decide how best to proceed without electricity.  Many of the conference attendees waited patiently in the hallway, comparing notes from the highly informative lunch speech.  Others slept (a sign of contentment following an effective presentation).  Thankfully, the temperature in Houston that day only reached a very comfortable 85 degrees (both outside and in). 




In the age of technology, most of us are concerned with foreseeable computer oriented issues: a slow processor, connection problems to the internet, incompatible software programs, etc.  We anticipate these situations prior to conferences, and take any and all measures to ensure that things run smoothly.  Unforeseen issues like power outages, an AWOL speaker, or malfunctioning rental equipment are rarely considered as they truly seem to be out of the realm of possibilities.  Yet, each can have dramatic effects on the ability to continue with a well organized presentation.  As the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared.”


While any alternate plan of action would be less than ideal, it is certainly better than sending the participants off to an early happy hour.   The easiest remedy would be to switch the order of the speakers until the particular problem is revolved.  Unfortunately, this is often not possible, as the full array of speakers are not always present throughout the entire conference. 




The sponsors should consider distributing to everyone a “conference manual” to accompany the various elements of the presentations.  A hard copy of every slide that will be shown should be included along with outlines and summaries of all of the speeches.  If a computer application is being demonstrated, print the relevant screens that will be discussed.  The text from the video presentation and any other important remarks should also be contained in this packet.  Such a manual will prove instrumental should the unthinkable power outage or equipment malfunction occur as the speaker can refer to these pages as opposed to the other visual aids.  Furthermore, even if the presentations proceed as planned, the manual allows the attendees to follow along more easily instead of rapidly taking notes from the materials displayed.  It also becomes a resource to take from the conference and use in the future.  While a few “tree huggers” may be unhappy about the excessive paper used, this proactive plan helps ensure a more user-friendly and organized conference.


Another approach to handling any unforeseen situations would be for the organizers to have a contingency session planned and ready to move forward.  If not already on the schedule, a comprehensive panel discussion consisting of company representatives, other industry experts in attendance, and even some significant clients could prove quite informative.  Together they could discuss trends and recent successes and failures in the industry.  The other attendees would have an opportunity to ask questions and express concerns on issues that may not have been covered during other parts of the conference.  Plant a few initial questions and topics in the audience to get the program flowing.  The more reserved attendees will be more apt to join in, once others have begun participating. 




Luckily for my client, the power was restored before any alternative plan needed to be implemented.  The “Power Point” slide show was quickly prepared and the attendees filed back into the main room.  Many were well rested from their little cat naps during the lunch speech, and were quite ready for the technical aspects of the conference.  Since my job was done, I decided against staying and instead headed for the elevators to try out a few new pick-up lines and gather additional material for future newsletters and/or lunch time presentations. 


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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH is a publication of Brounes & Associates focusing on business marketing and general communications strategies. Please call Ron Brounes at 713-432-1910 for additional information.  Video tapes of my speaking engagements can be made available for a modest fee.  They make excellent sources of information as well as sure fire cures for insomnia.