Pace Keeps His Cool During Public Speaking Miscues
A standing ovation is an audience’s ultimate show of appreciation for an outstanding public performance. For Joe Pace, however an ovation hasn’t always come at the end of a great speech. The Pacific Institute speaker has also received them when the opposite has happened, and the audience showed its appreciation for his graceful reaction to a public speaking disaster.
Take for instance, a situation in Louisiana, when he went to Baton Rouge and his luggage went to Tokyo. He was due to speak in front of 300 people from the Louisiana Association of Schools, while at the same time his luggage was heading toward another continent. His suit was in his suitcase, and he didn’t have a spare.
“This happened 15 or 20 years ago, when everybody wore sweat suits all the time,” Pace said. “I had on a jogging workout suit and sneakers. At least it matched.” Because it was Memorial Day, the stores were closed. He couldn’t get another suit, so he swallowed his pride. “I snuck in that morning, went to the college president and profusely apologized,” he said. “When he introduced me, he told the crowd what had happened and what my dilemma was. “The best thing was that I got a standing ovation before I even said a word.”
Sockless in Seattle
Pace, a former school president, has been working in education for 37 years. For the past 16, he’s been with The Pacific Institute , doing keynote speeches, seminars, in-services and workshops. His job takes him all over the country and brings him in front of people weekly. He’s a practiced, polished speaker, but that doesn’t mean that things go smoothly every time. To overcome miscues, he has to think on his feet.
At an appearance in Seattle, he had to thinkabouthis feet. As he was getting dressed in his hotel room, a sinking feeling make its way into his stomach as he realized he had forgotten his socks. Some fast thinking quickly fixed the problem, however. “I made sure my pants were down far enough over my shoes to hide the fact that I didn’t have any socks on,” he said. “But you still get this surge of fear when you realize, ‘Oh no!’”
Pace has found that a dose of self-deprecating human can go a long way toward remedying an uncomfortable situation. During an appearance at a Career College Association meeting in Baltimore, Md., a dozen years ago, he overcame a miscue by making fun of his athletic ability. “I started doing this think with Skoosh balls about communication,” Pace recalled. “I’d throw them the ball and they’d throw the ball back. I thought it was kind of cool.” The hook worked great, until he tried it too early in the morning. “Right in the beginning somebody asked me a question and I threw him the ball,” Pace said. “Everybody was still half asleep. It hit his coffee, and the coffee went all over his shirt and pants. He was not a happy camper.”
The executive left the room to clean himself off, and Pace tried to regain his composure. “I thought, ‘How am I going to recover from this?” he said. “It was terrible mess and I was so embarrassed. But I did recover. I made comments for the next couple of hours about my throwing ability, making fun of myself about it.” Even the executive eventually saw humor in the situation. “When he came back in, everybody applauded him, and I applauded him, too. He started laughing then. “But that’s when I stopped throwing the balls.”
Pace knows what it’s like to make it through a meeting in uncomfortable damp clothing. At one speaking engagement, a pitcher of water meant to refresh him did its job too well.
“I usually don’t stand behind a podium, but i had laid my notes on the podium and got behind it to move it back to me,” he said. “Someone had put a pitcher of water in the podium, and the whole pitcher fell.” Pace was wet, from his shirt to the front of his pants. Audience members who were waiting for him to begin speaking winced when they saw what had happened, but Pace carried on. “I kept making fun of it,” he said. “Like ‘it’s sure cold in here,’ and jokes about icicles. Since then, however, I get away from the podiums as far as I can get.”
Can You Hear Me Now?
Pace knows the importance of perseverance. Even when he’s not feeling his best, the audience comes first.
During one appearance he endured a virus that caused him to lose his voice, be he didn’t want to cancel his appearance. “I came from another place where I did a three-hour presentation, and probably should have postponed my next speech, but people showed up for it and I felt bad,” Pace said. “The show had to go on. “I had to whisper into the microphone, close up so they could hear me. That just killed me. On top of everything else, they were going, ‘What? What?’ and I had to repeat things over again.”
Turn It Off
At an appearance at a hotel in downtown Pittsburgh, the audience could hear Pace little too well. He was wearing a microphone for a seminar he was giving for Sawyer College, and years later people still remind him of what happened when he forgot to turn if off.
“There were about 300 people in the audience and they were doing reflective questions, so it was a quiet time,” he recalled. “While they were sitting there thinking, I ran into the bathroom but didn’t realize I still had my microphone on.” In the bathroom, he began speaking to several other people. As he spoke, his conversation was broadcast into the meeting room. “I’m chatting with two or three guys, talking about what’s happening, what’s up, and the president of Sawyer comes running into the bathroom, telling me the microphone’s on,” Pace said. “I was ready to shoot myself.”
He quickly ran through the conversation again in his head, and was relieved to recall that he had not said anything negative. However, he still had to face the crowd. “I was so embarrassed I wanted to go home,” he said. The crowd gave him credit for returning, however. They showed their appreciation with - what else? - a standing ovation.
“I like to have fun and kid around anyway,” Pace said. “But 15 or 16 years later people still remind me of it.” They key to keeping your cool in an embarrassing situation, he said, is to find the humor in it.
“I just take advantage of the situation,” he said. “I swirl it around and make fun of it, even though it’s so embarrassing.”