The art of improvising - Part B
The beginner’s guide to the professional’s day-to-day improvisation
In the first part of this blog post, we talked about how staying at home and dealing with technical issues while working with customers or other daily-work issues reminded me how crucial it is to stay resilient and why the skill of improvising is one of the best skills I’ve honed. I also shared with you some quick steps to follow when you have an unexpected circumstance.
This post is dedicated to further examples of these unexpected issues and how to deal with them.
You have internet problems during a lecture or a meeting with a client.
Make sure you have a cable connecting the computer prior to the session to avoid wifi connection problems.
Turn off windows, apps, or anything else on your computer that you don’t need for the lecture or meeting. It will make your computer work faster and avoid distractions. When you’ll switch between your presentation to a video, for example, you won’t have to lose valuable time.
By the way, turning everyone’s cameras off can also make the internet work faster and without delays.
Organizing a webinar or an online session? Go the extra mile and hire a person or ask a colleague to deal with the technical side. This way, you can focus your energy on the audience instead of solving technical issues, such as muting and unmuting the participants, dividing them into rooms, answering questions on chat, and so on.
You are being asked a question that you don’t want to answer to during a live presentation.
You are in the middle of your presentation, pausing to see whether there’s a question from the audience, and then it comes: you’re asked a question that you don’t want to answer. It might be because it makes you feel uncomfortable, or you simply don’t know the answer. But you can’t just say, “I don’t want to answer that,” because it will break the unique connection you have with the audience and their trust — and it won’t make you look very good.
So what should you do?
Don’t lie. You can say “please hold that question and we’ll go back to it later.” You can also say, “I need to check it out because I don’t want to give you misleading information.” If this presentation is an in-person lecture, you can say, “please come to me after the lecture and we’ll discuss it further.” The last one is a great answer when a participant develops a conversation with you, but it becomes too long and irrelevant to the other participants.
You forgot your presentation.
You worked so hard on creating the presentation, but when you arrived at the presentation location, you realized you forgot it at home. What an embarrassment!
I have a habit, for years now, of “carrying” the presentation through multi-digital tools. I always send it to my email, upload it to my Google Drive, and copy it to a disc-on-key. I know a disc-on-key is a bit old-fashioned technology, but it usually works when there’s a problem when signing in to my email account or when there’s no internet connection in the lecture room. I always carry a spare copy. This way, I can be relaxed and focus on the important thing — delivering the presentation.
You are organizing an event and the speaker calls it off at the last minute.
You have planned the event for months or weeks. You’ve tied all its parts to an amazing event. You’ve published it. You have registrants.
But at the last minute, one of the speakers falls ill and has to cancel. What you should do?
The best way is to initially (when you plan the event) create a list of potential speakers. Once a speaker sadly calls off, you can reach out to these speakers, see who’s available, and quickly make the necessary changes. If no one is available, and there is other speakers or content (i.e round tables), you can just skip this speaker. Otherwise, you might want to change your agenda a bit. Remember – there are many professionals out there looking for opportunities like that, so most of the time it shouldn’t bother you and it will be easy to find a new speaker.
If this speaker is the only one at your event, you may postpone it to a new date. Just make sure to update the registrants through your communication platforms.
You are organizing a production and there is a series of unpleasant surprises.
A few years ago, while working at Forbes Israel, we produced the annual Forbes 30Under30 issue, including a shooting day. Here’s a glimpse at the editorial process:
Since there were about 40 people to be photographed plus we needed to shoot the cover and group photos, we decided earlier who would be assigned to whom. We thought of a few options for the cover. Each one of the editorial team received their role, and everyone knew exactly what to do.
When I arrived that morning, one of the team members was missing, due to illness. It meant that the rest of us now had to rethink what our roles for the day should be. We were at the Tel Aviv Museum, a typical museum: a huge place with endless rooms and halls. We were three team members: One should have been with the photographer, one in the waiting room, and one should have accompanied the next person to be photographed from the waiting room to the specific room.
This went off without a hitch (thanks to the great invention called the cellphone). But then we were faced with a new problem — the waiting room was dark, the cafeteria on that floor, and it just looked bad. So I gathered all those who were waiting for being photographed and tried to align with them what was missing. Obviously, once they understood the process, they knew what to expect and were relaxed. Following that, I could leave them without “supervision,” and went to buy some snacks.
But the next problem was more crucial. The person that we wanted to be placed front and center on the cover was missing. There was still time for this specific photo, but it threw our plans out of order. I called him and on the third ring, there was an answer. “Oh, I’m not sure I’ll make it.” To make it clear, we called all of them the day before and sent the details to make sure they would be there. So when I received the answer, it was really jarring. Of course, this person didn’t know that we intended to place them on the cover, but now we had to think fast and decide what to do. In the end, due to solid preparation and preparing advanced scenarios for the cover, we managed to rethink our ideas quickly and smoothly.
In the end, we worked well as a team, everybody cooperated, we had beautiful photos, and I think those photographed were happy with the results.
To sum it up, and as I illustrated in the first part of this blog post, the best way to deal with surprising challenges is to prepare in advance. Have a backed-up wifi source for your online lecture, save a copy of your presentation, and plan multiple scenarios for complex projects, in case you need to improvise at the last moment. Plan, breathe and improvise when necessary. It won’t prevent stressful surprises but will help you deal with them and get the desirable results.
Wishing you a smooth day without unexpected (or stressful) circumstances!