How to Command a Room When You're Unprepared

What should you do when all eyes are on you and you're not at all prepared?

Richie Frieman
5-minute read
Episode #372

Let’s forget about whose fault it was the papers weren’t there on time and chalk it up to a lack of communication. Either way, Sean was not adequately prepared for the meeting. However, if you’re not prepared, as I said in Tip #1, no one has to know. After all, if they aren’t expecting papers, then don’t bring it up! It's as simple as that. But understanding that point, Sean turned the tables and had the room speak to him with some amazing key phrases like: 

  1. “So, how is everyone today? Everyone had a good weekend?”

  2. “Before we begin, to get a better understanding of the room, can we do a round of intros?”

  3. “I have a very big agenda, but before I have my assistant present you with materials, I wanted to keep your focus up here first.”

Here, Sean was buying time but not making it look as if he needed it. He used excellent communication skills to engage the room in a manner that took away from being unprepared. Now, depending on your situation, you have to feel out the room and see how long you can actually stretch (as we say in comedy), but it never hurts to engage your audience before taking the main stage yourself. In fact, in most cases, they’ll appreciate the attention.

Be cool, stay calm, and engage your room with a Q&A session.

Tip #3: Wrap It Up

When you're unprepared, you will want time to fly by as fast as possible. However, in most cases, time will melt slower than an icicle in a Minnesota snowstorm. If you’re unprepared, do not try to push the envelope and keep to your designated time. I mean, if you aren’t prepared to carry out with Plan A, don’t drag the room into your ramble of thought, pretending that you know what you’re doing. Now, this isn’t like I said in Tip #1, where I preached the mantra of playing the part. You should always play the part, but that doesn’t mean you can’t end things early and wrap it up when you feel it’s the right time. 

There is nothing wrong with asking an audience if they have any questions and knowing that it could save you from embarrassment. For example, say something like, “Now, I know I ended early but I wanted to make sure that I had ample time for questions. I would never want to leave her without getting a chance for open conversation.” When you do something like this, you tell the room that you care about their feedback. Yes, you’re doing this rather early because you need to save yourself the agony, but again—as I said in Tip #1—the audience doesn't know that. Be cool, stay calm, and engage your room with a Q&A session. The worst case is no one asks a question, and that’s not your fault; you left it in their hands and were generous enough to share the floor.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

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