Calling an Audible

This year’s Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking attributes part of his success to calling an audible just before giving his final presentation, making adjustments in his content and style to fit the audience’s energy. As a speaker, when—and HOW—should you consider making a last-minute adjustment yourself? 

In football, teams typically huddle up to communicate which play they will be running when the ball is snapped. This way, everyone knows the plan. Sometimes, however, as they break the huddle, the quarterback sees a problem, or perhaps an opportunity, in the way the other team is lining up, and will decide to change the play at the last second. He calls an AUDIBLE—changing the play—and shouts it out to his entire team so they can make the adjustments.

Sometimes, presenters need to make last minute adjustments to their planned speech, and call an audible. This past August, Manoj Vasudevan became the 2017 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking. Manoj, one of 30,000 who had participated in the contest, was competing with nine other speakers in the final round. He had his speech planned and well-rehearsed, but as he looked out at the audience, he decided to call an audible.

Manoj had been planning for a fresh, daytime audience, but in fact gave his presentation in the evening, and noticed his listeners seemed tired and low-key after a long day of listening to other presentations. He decided to tone down his energy to avoid sounding abrasive. He also decided to leave out a few jokes that he was planning to use. Instead, he focused on increasing his emphasis on several key terms to keep his audience’s attention on his overall message. (Watch his presentation by clicking here, and notice what other characteristics make him a great presenter.)

Should you, as a presenter, ever consider calling an audible, making a last-minute adjustment to your presentation? In football, a QB can only call an audible if he has the playbook memorized so well that he has instant recall. To do this in front of a business audience, you have to know your content just as well.

When to Call an Audible in a Business Situation

Manoj made his last-minute adjustments by assessing his audience, noticing a few concerns and changing his approach a bit. Here are a few other times you might need to call an audible in a business setting:

  • Audience change. The CEO suddenly walks into your meeting and sits down, or a key decision maker backs out.
  • Content issues. Your listeners start to question the numbers you shared with them, or someone goes off on a tangent and you need to take back control.
  • Equipment issues. A projector or sound system doesn’t work, or the room is noticeably too warm or cold.
  • Personal issues. You don’t feel well, slept poorly, or just received bad news.

Quick Tips

Here are a few ideas for the next time you need to call an audible as a presenter:

  • Visit with members of your audience in advance of your speech. Pay attention to what you hear. You may want to add a comment to your presentation—or take out a portion of it—based on those interactions.
  • Plan ahead. Know your playbook. In particular, know the difference between stuff your audience NEEDS to know as opposed to what is NICE to know. If you find out you have to end sooner than expected, stick to the content that is critical to your message.
  • They won’t realize you’re making an adjustment as long as you keep it to yourself. Don’t apologize for the change or call attention to it—the audience doesn’t need to know that.

Good luck preparing for your next presentation, and if you need to make a change, it’s OK, and sometimes necessary, to call an audible. HIKE!

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