Public Speaking, Lady Google, And Wrong Turns

Whenever we go on a family trip, we activate the Google Maps navigation feature, through which a kind voice announces to us, step by step, where we should go.

The voice-activated feature is a highlight of any trip for our four-year-old son, who looks forward to hearing each new instruction. He’s taken to calling her “Lady Google” — and it’s a nickname that’s stuck for our entire family.

I was recently driving to a presentation training in a new city when I made a wrong turn. As she does so brilliantly, Lady Google almost instantly re-routed my trip. As quickly as I got off track, she got me back on.

Here’s what Lady Google didn’t do: She didn’t freak out because I had taken a different path. She didn’t judge my apparent inability to follow directions. She didn’t change her vocal tone to express annoyance at my error.

Instead, she’s programmed to simply think, “It looks like the driver did something different than my original plan called for. How can I help this driver get from where he is now to where he’s trying to go as efficiently as possible? Okay, I see another route now. Let’s try this one.”

Google Maps Screen Shot

In public speaking settings, presenters often experience an unexpected diversion. As examples:

  • The introductory speaker goes long, cutting into your time
  • A member of the audience asks an unanticipated question
  • A senior manager challenges your premise
  • The audience starts getting restless and losing their focus
  • You forget to make an essential point, requiring you to backtrack
  • You encounter a glitch with audio/visual equipment that demands your attention

Those diversions can force you to stray from your original itinerary. But while you might not end up getting from your point of departure to your destination as quickly as possible, you can still get where you’re going — without any negative self-talk, annoyance, or panic.

As in real life, unexpected diversions are often the best part of the trip. Just as some slower side roads are prettier and more scenic than the main highway, some diversions — addressing unanticipated audience objections, fixing glitchy equipment, reassuring a nervous board member — are so valuable as to justify the slower path.

The next time you’re knocked off track, channel the voice of Lady Google. Remain calm, reroute, and stay focused on your destination.

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