Public Speaking Horror Story: Brad, You're On.

A few years ago, I was invited to join a panel discussion.

The organizer didn’t provide me with much detail in advance, so I emailed a few times to learn more about the panel. “It’s just a loose conversation about the media,” he told me. “No need to prepare anything specific.”

I asked whether I should prepare any opening remarks. He told me that there wouldn’t be any and that he’d jump straight into the conversation.

As the four of us on the panel took our seats, the organizer/moderator introduced us. Then, without warning, he said: “We’ll begin with each panelist giving five minutes of opening remarks. We’ll start with Brad Phillips.”

Panel Discussion

I’ve written before about that “oh, shit” moment, where your physiological symptoms overwhelm you as the fight or flight syndrome kicks in. My heart started thumping.

I had mere seconds to decide what to do. I could have complained that he hadn’t informed me in advance that I’d need an opening statement (although, curiously, he seemed to have informed the other panelists). I could have informed the audience that although I wasn’t prepared, I’d do the best I could. Or I could have asked for someone else to go first.

Instead, I decided to fight through it. I gave an opening statement. On the plus side, the words I uttered were in English—but that was about the only thing I had going for me. My opening statement lacked a central theme, a sense of importance, and any type of organization. As a presentation coach, I’d give it a “C-.”

Since then, I’ve learned to formulate my impromptu comments using a sandwich formula, with the main point at the beginning and end of my comments, supplemented by an example or two in the middle. Alternatively, you might try the “reverse sandwich” formula, which places your examples at the beginning and end of your comments, anchored by the main point in the middle.

In hindsight, I made the right decision to proceed without excuse. But I’ll never walk into a panel presentation again without a well-formed opening and closing statement ready to go.

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