J is for Jams


expect the unexpected

Remember our motto. Expect the unexpected. – Lilly Walters  

Be prepared for jams, mix-ups, and mistakes. As Murphy’s law dictates, if anything can go wrong it will.

The #1 rule is this: STAY COOL! When something goes wrong, the audience looks to you for how to react. If you are not alarmed, they won’t be alarmed, either.

Here are some helpful tips from a training module, From Speaker to Trainer if your jam involves audience members:

Talkative People

To prevent talkative people from stealing valuable time, summarize the major points made and turn the discussion back to the group. If the talkers insist on participating, ask them closed questions to which they can reply only “yes” or “no.”

Silent Types

Include silent people in the discussion. Encourage them to participate, and support their ideas. Ask them open-ended questions, because it gives them an opportunity to express an idea without wondering if their answer is precisely right. If you are having a problem eliciting a response, follow with an expectant, friendly look, then listen actively and respond only when necessary.

Toastmasters training module, From Speaker to Trainer if your jam involves audience members:


These people find fault with everything. If it’s not the material, it’s the physical environment that disturbs them. You might hear them complain, “Do we have to participate in this exercise?”

To declaw crabs, acknowledge their complaints and determine if their complaints are legitimate. If the complaints are problems that can be easily corrected, have the crabs suggest solutions and get feedback from the group. If the complaints aren’t justified, suggest that you hope they will reserve judgment until the program is completed.


Avoid getting into arguments and try to promote win-win situations without discrediting you or the know-it-alls. One way to do this is to acknowledge the know-it-alls’ main point and thank them for their contributions. If they continue to press the point, tell them you are curious about their reason for attending your seminar in the first place. If the know-it-alls obviously don’t know what they’re talking about, suggest that they may be mistaken, yet allow them to save face.


Jams are the focus of What to Say When You Are Dying on the Platform written by Lilly Walters. Here are a few pointers on handling a variety of jams from her hilarious book:

Losing your place or train of thought:

How it can happen:

  • Under-prepared
  • Sidetracked
  • Stage fright and frozen
  • Extremely overtired or emotionally distraught

What to do:

  • Relax
  • Say nothing (Silence is golden. Take this golden opportunity to allow people to think while you gather your thoughts)
  • Make a lightly humorous comment
  • Launch into a discussion exercise while you gather your thoughts.
  •  “Take a drink of water. You know your mind is blank – they think you are thirsty. And the longer your mind is blank, the thirstier you are!” -John Kinde
  • “I always carry a bunch of props that I can use in what I call ‘go to’ situations.” – Michael Aun
  • “I always carry one or two 3” X 5” cards containing an apt quotation or startling statistic relevant to the subject on which I am speaking….. If I do have a memory lapse, I merely pull out one of the cards and say, ‘Let me digress for a moment, and share with you an interesting tidbit on this subject.’ ” – Larry Tracy

Your computer or projector won’t work:

Planning ahead:

  • Have handouts of your presentation
  • Have an overhead projector on standby

If it happens “live”:

  • Do a brainstorm or other group exercise while the problem is being addressed
  • Work from your handouts

The microphone won’t work


  • Always have a sound check. Always ask for an additional mic to be set up, tested, live, ready, and right there on the podium someplace where you can easily grab it. If the first one breaks down, go to the second.


  • If the mic is out and you are ready to go on live – have the facility administrators announce that the microphone is not working, and they are making every attempt to fix it. If it’s a large audience and there is no way they’ll hear you without a mic, stay off stage until it is working and let the facility administrators continue to address the audience about the problem. Otherwise, you will be the target of the audience’s frustration.
  • If the mic goes out while you are talking, and you don’t have a backup, call for an audience exercise or break while the problem is resolved.

For whatever reason, you must use the restroom:

  • Call for a break or group exercise and make your exit. Don’t announce why you have to go. Just go.


Words of wisdom about jams:

Stay positive. Jams happen!

As Terry Paulson from Microphone Man, “Learn an important lesson early – never blame people from the platform, even if you must confront them privately later. Remember, everyone makes mistakes, and some staging problems are no one’s fault! They just happen!”


Microphone jams? Don’t forget to turn off your mic!

From Lilly Walters, What to Say When You’re Dying On the Platform

Talk about a tough jam! Jim McJunkin was giving a presentation in Mexico City when, 10 minutes into his speech, Montezuma’s revenge caught up with him big time. He quickly excused the audience for a break and made a mad dash for the restroom. Everything he had consumed in the past two days decided to leave his body; “Two exits, no waiting.”

After about 10 minutes of noisy trauma, Jim decided he felt well enough to continue and dashed back to the meeting room. At his waist was the control and battery pack to the wireless microphone he was wearing. He smiled at the audience as he reached down to turn the mic back on. His smile froze in place. His eyes slid from the audience to the controls, realization dawned. He slowly brought his eyes back up to the audience and noted that everyone was a lovely shade of forest green.

He smiled at the squeamish crowd and said, not knowing what else to do, ‘Well, anyone ready for lunch? I’m buyin.”



Image Source: Pixabay.com

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