The Early Bird

We live in a busy society. No news there. People cut things too close all the time. But if you want to be more confident as a speaker, this is one of the simplest, easiest things you can do: arrive early. This is almost completely within your control.

Murphy’s Law is a part of the universe, almost Newton’s Fourth Law of Motion. Like gravity, you can’t stop it; all you can do is plan for it.

When “early” saved me

Case in point: last week I had a relatively complex presentation that involved a colleague co-presenting remotely. We planned to run his part using Skype. Rehearsals went great, everything was in place. Out of habit, I arrived at the venue one hour early.

I ran into some setup issues immediately–there was no visible way to hook up my laptop. But I had enough time to contact a venue tech, who got me connected by the half-hour-prior mark, at which point we planned to connect via Skype.

Except we couldn’t connect. It took me about two minutes to realize what was happening. We were on a college campus with strict security; Skype uses special ports for connection; those network ports were closed. The venue tech couldn’t open them, so we immediately went into Plan B mode: get my colleague into a Google Hangout, although he had never done one before.

We decided to skip right over trying it via iPad, since I have had some problems getting into a Hangout from an iPad, and there would not be time to troubleshoot it if it didn’t work. That caused another problem, though: he couldn’t get his Macbook on the wireless at his own college (still not sure what happened there), and his desktop computer did not have a webcam or microphone. But he ran down the hall to grab a headset so we could at least have him present via audio only.

To make a longer story shorter, we were able to get things going and were only six minutes late starting. I felt a little stress, but not much–we had left enough time to fix things, and I simply missed the opportunity to chat with folks as they arrived.

When “early” would have helped

Another colleague at the same conference had an encore presentation the next day. In other words, it was a repeat of a session he had already delivered. He figured everything was already set up, he knew the room, his co-presenter was comfortable with the material, so there was no need to get to the room more than 10 minutes prior to the scheduled start time.

Of course, that morning his alarm failed to go off, and he awoke in the hotel eight minutes before the scheduled start time. He wound up about 20 minutes late for his own presentation. He’s a pro, and handled it well, but at the cost of some personal stress.

Why take chances?

Arriving early is good for everyone (except the worm). The worst that can happen is that you’ll have some time to sit around and chill a bit. Everything else is good–you’ll be able to greet people as they come in (which is what I had planned to do), and you’ll have time to fix things if they go wrong (which is what I actually did). Either is a win.

When has arriving early helped you out of a difficulty? When have you wished that you had arrived early?

Photo credit: Flickr user audreyjm529

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