Have you ever had a “show must go on” moment? One of those times where something totally unexpected very nearly derailed you, and you felt like you were scrambling just to keep your footing?

One of my hobbies is acting in community theatre productions, and it’s a given that at least once in every production, something totally out of left field will happen. It might be a light catching on fire during the show, or a bug landing on your head in the middle of a monologue, or one of your fellow actors suddenly skipping ahead pages in the script.

In my case, my most recent “show must go on” moment was totally of my own making. I had about 3 seconds to change my costume between scenes so I could get back out there to answer a ringing phone. One night, I got backstage and started putting on the wrong costume. I listened to the phone ringing and realized in horror what I was doing – and had to hastily grab whatever was handy to get back on stage as fast as I could. I went out in the wrong shirt (which, by the way, was also on backwards), but fortunately, my weeks of rehearsing meant my brain was able to automatically give me the lines without (hopefully) giving a clue to the audience that anything had gone awry backstage.

The show literally had to go on – and the only thing that saved me was all of that preparation.

The same is true if you’re facing a presentation, speech, interview, or sales call. Being as prepared as possible can be the difference between panicking, scrambling, and fumbling your way through a curveball scenario, or letting your preparation support you with something solid to fall back on as you readjust your game plan.

Here are some tips to maximize your preparation:


Some speakers will tell you that they don’t want to memorize their speech because they don’t want to sound rehearsed. I appreciate that point and also don’t want to sound like I’m reciting canned dialogue. At the same time, if it’s a keynote or other planned formal speech I’ll be delivering, my perspective is that I need to know exactly what I’m saying at any given time. I don’t want to be that speaker that wanders off topic, rambles, or overstays my welcome. That means I’ve rehearsed and honed my speech – including my vocabulary choices, pauses, gestures, staging, volume, and body language – because I need to know I’ve done all I can to be as effective, engaging, and entertaining as possible. I’ll have my notes up at the podium with me if I get lost, but I’m going to rehearse my speech just like I would a theatrical performance.


Similar to my preparation before a speech, I’ll review my presentation – including any slides or other audio-visual aids I’m using – till I know it inside and out. I’m not going to be that speaker who reads from the screen. What would happen if my flash drive was corrupted, or the bulb burned out on the projector, or there simply wasn’t any AV equipment? Not to mention that audiences never want to be on the receiving end of a presentation that’s simply a recitation of what’s written up on the screen.  Your audio-visual aids are there to support your message, not be your message. Your presentation – and how you deliver it – are the true take-aways.

Interview and Sales Calls

In preparing for either an interview or a sales call, I try to imagine the different questions I might be asked – especially the ones that may be tougher to answer – and I work on formulating a response well before I walk into that scenario. I want to do everything I can to avoid stumbling around for an answer. I probably won’t need half of what I’ve prepared, but at least I have the confidence that I’ve got all of the information and answers in my back pocket, should I need them.

When I had my recent “show must go on” moment, if I hadn’t known my lines to the point where I didn’t have to think about them, the panic I’d felt backstage might’ve gotten the better of me. It was in that moment that I was so grateful for all of the preparation I’d done.  Your own preparation can give you the confidence and polish you’re looking for when you’re in the spotlight – and prevent panic when or if the unexpected happens.

Have you ever had a “show must go on” moment? Tell us what happened here!