Fire Alarm During Your Presentation

Fire alarm rings during your presentation

What do you do when the fire alarm rings during your presentation?

I’ve witnessed this happen to two other speakers and this week it was my turn. It’s a lot easier to think logically after it is over. It might never happen to you – but perhaps you should be prepared for the fire alarm to ring during your presentation.

About eight minutes into my breakfast presentation to the local chamber of commerce at a fancy restaurant the fire alarm rang. The alarm was annoyingly loud so naturally I stopped speaking and forced a smile.

You can imagine my first thoughts. They were angry selfish thoughts. Why now? Why me? However I did not convey those thoughts on my face.

We were not immediately able to discern if the fire was real, however I did smell smoke. After the alarm stopped and started two more times over the next five minutes we left the room and several folks moved outside the restaurant. No one panicked. For some reason I was reminded of the scene on Seinfeld when George noticed what he thought was smoke at the children’s house party and ran out of the house yelling, “Fire, Fire”. In his panic he trampled the old lady. Of course I didn’t think that anyone would see the humor at the moment so I said nothing.

After about 10 minutes we learned that there was a kitchen fire that was extinguished. We regrouped in another room that was free of smoke and I resumed my presentation. Of course I had to shorten my presentation to finish on time. Yes I left some things out. Always be prepared to shorten your presentation.

There is no question that the talk of everyone that day was about the fire at the breakfast presentation they attended. Perhaps they also talked about the great speaker.

The fire might have been a strange blessing because it made the breakfast presentation much more memorable.

What should you do when the fire alarm rings during your presentation?

Stop speaking and look calmly at your audience.

Stop thinking about your presentation and think about their safety and comfort.

Make eye contact with the meeting MC or chair and ask him/her to check it out.

When the alarm stops announce that we are checking it out and will let you know immediately if there is any danger or need to leave the room.

Do not ignore the alarm. It might be a real threat.

The audience is looking at you as the speaker to take charge and some of them will be concerned or even afraid.

Point out the exits to people and remind them to move calmly if they need to leave.

State the oblivious – “We don’t yet know the nature of the problem and anyone who wishes to leave is welcome to move calmly to the exits”. Give permission to people who want to leave.

Assign two or three other people to check out the hall ways and exits.

If you don’t have solid answers after about five minutes than instruct everyone to leave the building. If you see flames or heavy smoke – that is a solid answer. Then move people quickly.

I hope that this never happens to you but in case it does – be ready to act appropriately. Lives could be at stake.

George Torok
Professional Speaker
Business Speaker
Motivational Business Speaker

Executive Speech Coach, Business presentation tips from George Torok, the Speech Coach for Executives.


Power Presentation Tips 14: Blackouts and Brownouts

Power Presentation Tips 14:

Shining through blackouts and brownouts

One thing you needn't worry about is experiencing a blackout during your presentation. I mean you - not the room lights. A speaker blackout happens when the speaker gets so nervous that he loses consciousness, and falls down. You don't have to worry about this happening to you because if it happens you are finished your presentation. You're done. Someone else has to decide what to do with you and the audience.

I've never seen that happen. So don't worry about a blackout.

However you should be prepared for brownouts. A brownout happens when the speaker forgets what comes next. If you haven't yet experienced a brownout then you are lucky so far. But don't count on luck; instead be prepared to handle a brownout because it will happen. It happens to every speaker and more often than you know because the speaker handled the brownouts so well.

What can you do to handle brownouts?

Pause and smile.
Often this technique alone will relax you enough to remember where you were and what comes next. The bonus is that your smile tells the audience that everything is ok.

Check your notes.
This is why point-form notes on index cards are so handy.

Repeat or rephrase the last thing you said.
This is like rerunning the recording in your brain and helps you refocus your thoughts. The audience believes that you do this for impact. If that doesn't work you could quickly summarize the points you have covered so far.

Ask a rhetorical question.
"What comes next?' You are really asking yourself this question but the audience perceives it as engagement. The bonus of this question is that someone who was paying close attention might shout out the answer for you. You nod and smile and carry on. They might shout out the wrong answer. In either case it buys you time to think and decide what to say next.

These techniques help you to relax, buy time and refocus when you experience a brownout. Most importantly - don't let the audience know of your inner turmoil. You don't need to deliver your presentation exactly as you prepared. You just want to get your message across.

George Torok

PS: tell me how this tip helps you.

PPS: Thanks for your comments and feedback.

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Make a better impression in the boardroom

Ten ways to make a better impression in the boardroom

Under the gun and don't know what to say? Here's how to communicate like a pro under pressure.

You're in a hard-nosed business meeting that has taken a turn for the worse? Your ideas aren't being understood. Your questions are being met with ego-crushing blank stares. Your window of opportunity is closing fast.

How do you turn things around?

We presented Peter Urs Bender, author of four Canadian best sellers, with ten tough scenarios and asked him to explain how to get the upper hand during each awkward business situation. What follows are his answers to each scenario.

Scenario 1. You're a small business owner in a serious negotiation with representatives from an international company. You need to separate a gap between the parties-what can you do?

Peter's advice:
1. Don't be intimidated. You may be playing hardball with the big guys, but there's no need to tremble. Put your best face forward and remember, the big guys make mistakes, too.

2. Be yourself. Don't puff yourself up into someone you're not. Genuine modesty is recognized and respected.

3. Be prepared before you meet for the most difficult questions they can ask you (Will you be in business tomorrow? Have you ever dealt with a client like us? Do you think you can satisfy our increasing business demands?)

4. Underpromise and overdeliver. For instance, if they ask for more information say you'll supply it within a couple of days. Then deliver tomorrow. Speed of response commands universal respect.

Scenario 2: You are a shy person who finds communication embarrassing. What can you do, and what icebreakers can you use to help them forge meaningful relationships with others?

Peter's advice:
Smile, even if you don't feel like it. Look the person in the eye, even if you feel uncomfortable. Ask a question to which he or she cannot answer "yes" or "no". "How do you feel about XYZ?" is a great opener, or "From your point of view, what do you think about XYZ?"

Scenario 3: You're in a meeting where you need to communicate with an individual who doesn't understand English or who has a very heavy accent and cannot be readily understood. How do you avoid embarrassing the individual? Is it rude to say that you're having difficulty understanding the person and asking them to repeat themselves?

Peter's advice:
Yes, I highly recommend you repeat the question in a warm, questioning manner. Get the person to repeat as often as you need to. One way to get another person to speak more slowly, is to speak deliberately more slowly yourself.

Scenario 4: You've been tossed into an unexpected meeting and haven't time to do background research about the topic you will be discussing or the individuals who you will be meeting with. What can do to avoid being labeled as a "fledgling business owner who is both disorganized and unprepared"?

Peter's advice:
Always be dressed as if you were about to meet the Pope. Always be sure you have a 30-second infommercial on your business to present to anybody, anywhere, at any time.

If you don't know the answer to a question, admit it and get back to your questioner as quickly as possible with the answer.

Unexpected meetings can often present positive opportunities. You get to present your business or your point of view in a non-confrontational setting.

Scenario 5: You're in a stressful situation and want to instill a sense of comfort and relaxation in other people. What verbal and non-verbal communication methods can you use to do this?

Peter's advice:
To make people relaxed, "Act Relaxed." Put on a smile, speak slowly, and with your warmest voice. For more information on "Voicepower," go to However, there are exceptions. If you have to announce a layoff or the death of a spouse, please be aware that a smile doesn't help much. As a matter of fact, it can work against you.

The best way to deal with a difficult situation with employees or your own people is to be as open and honest as you can.

Scenario 6: You're in a business meeting when a potential business partner puts their foot in their mouth and utters something that offends you. What can you say to get around the awkward situation and still sound professional?

Peter's advice:
Put on a gentle smile and say "I feel completely differently about that!" Don't argue with a colleague in public, but when you're out of the meeting, clarify the situation.

Scenario 6: What if you say something that you regret, but cannot make a public apology, and you find your ideas under attack. What can you say to smooth over a situation?

Peter's advice:
As a leader, you can always make a public apology, even if it risks hurting others. If you have said something you regret, apologize for it as quickly and as publicly as possible. Clearly indicate what you meant to say, as opposed to what people thought you said. Often your ideas come under attack because others misinterpret them. Clear up the misinterpretations right away.

Scenario 8: You're in a business meeting and want to be noticed without communicating an over-aggressive and unpopular persona. What can you do?

Peter's advice:
If nobody talks slow in your group, talk slow. If nobody stands up, stand up. In other words, stand out from the group without using aggressive tactics.

Scenario 9: You're in a meeting and someone is intentionally trying to "trip you up". What can you do to control your nervousness so that you are unable to communicate effectively?

Peter's advice:
In Secrets of Face-to-Face Communication, page 82, I talk in detail about how to control one's emotion. In a nutshell, create an anchor, something that will cause you to breathe deeply and relax the tension in your jaw, neck, and shoulder area. A good anchor is squeezing the thumb and forefinger of your right hand together, and imagining a Stop Sign. This image reminds you to breathe deeply and relax these muscles. There is more along this line in the book.

Scenario 10: You want to communicate interest in a business venture, but don't want to sound too eager or naive. What can you do?

Peter's advice:
Both eagerness and naivete are no sins, and are often seen as positives. Both do indicate beginners in business, and experienced business professionals make allowances. The trick is not to appear simple-minded. Listen closely. If you're not sure of yourself, offer comments only where it seems appropriate. Ask questions not only to get information, but to demonstrate your interest.


Peter Urs Bender was one of Canada’s most dynamic and entertaining business speakers. He died in March 2003 after a brave fight with cancer. He is the author of four best-selling business books: Leadership from Within, Secrets of Power Presentations, Secrets of Power Marketing Secrets of Face-to-Face Communication, and Gutfeeling. To read excerpts from his books visit

Executive Speech Coach, Business presentation tips from George Torok, the Speech Coach for Executives.


Power Presentation Tip 13: When should you finish

Power Presentations Tip 13

"What time should I finish?"

Know the answer to this question before you begin your presentation. And be prepared to cut it short because things change.

Before you present to a group always know how long you have been allotted to speak. In many cases the agenda will state a start and stop time for your presentation. When it doesn't or when the meeting gets off schedule then you should ask the meeting chair (quietly if possible) just before you start, "What time should I finish?"

Don't assume that you still have the 30 minutes that you were told two weeks ago. Don't assume that the agenda hasn't changed. Don't assume that the temperament of the group is what you prepared for.

My Mistake
Don't make the mistake that I did recently. I was to deliver a new presentation to a small informal group of associates. We deviated from the agenda. There was a delay with the projector (which I usually don't use). I was anxious about testing my new presentation on this group. And anxious about the equipment delay I launched into my presentation. About ¾ of the way I realized I didn't know what time I should finish. And I had more material than I had time.

It's always better to ask and risk embarrassment then be silent and wonder forever. So I turned to the chair and asked, "When should I finish?" He gracefully allowed me five more minutes.
I should have asked him that question just after the equipment was set to go. But I was anxious.

It was an easy mistake to make and this time it was not a critical presentation.
You might not have that luxury when you present. Learn from my mistake.

Four more tips

If you have called the meeting and told people that you want 30 minutes of their time - finish in 29 minutes. They will be impressed.

To stay on time - place a small travel clock where you can clearly see the time.

Never annoy the chair by asking your audience if they want more.

Write the stop time on an index card and place it next to your clock.

George Torok

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PPS: Thanks for your comments and feedback.

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Power Presentations is a registered trademark of Peter Urs Bender.
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Executive Speech Coach, Business presentation tips from George Torok, the Speech Coach for Executives.

Effective Executive Speaking

Effective Executive Speaking

I completed the delivery of another three-day training program at the Canadian Management Centre in Toronto. The program is called, "Effective Executive Speaking". As you might guess this program is for executives, senior management or executives-in-training. The caliber of students is high. Their expectations are high.

I have been delivering this program for the Canadian Management Centre for close to 12 years. My colleague in the delivery of this program is the Canadian literary icon, John Robert Colombo. Among many other honours he is a recipient of the Order of Canada.

John Robert Colombo and I work well together in spite of our incredibly different backgrounds and perspective. Our presentation styles are vastly different, yet we follow the same principles. We are both students of Peter Urs Bender, the author of "Secrets of Power Presentations." We respect each other's strengths and contributions to this executive speaking program. We also have become friends.

As you can imagine this collaboration provides a powerful learning environment for the executive students of this program. We witness gratifying results.

George Torok
John Robert Colombo
Effective Executive Speaking
Canadian Management Centre

Executive Speech Coach, Business presentation tips from George Torok, the Speech Coach for Executives.

Speaking to High School Students

Speaking to High School Students - a tough audience

I spoke to high school students at the Furture ACES conference in Talisman. This is a personal development program for high and middle school students from Toronto.

Here is the summaryof the Future ACES program from their website:

"Future Aces™ is a proactive character-building initiative that can become the foundation within which to support other social skills programs. The principles of the Future Aces™ philosophy are the guidelines used in all of the Foundation’s initiatives and programs. This philosophy challenges individuals to make more responsible lifestyle choices that benefit themselves and society."

I delivered two sessions on public speaking. I do this once a year and have been speaking to them for at least six years.

I donate my time and energy to Future ACES for a few reasons. Number one is that speaking to high school students keeps me humble and challenges me to be a better presenter. They are a tough audience even though they don't intend to be. Some of them have a way of sitting upon chairs that I find strange.

I'm used to speaking to business owners, managers and professionals who are demanding but follow the rules of decorum that I prefer. I had to learn to present differently to this audience of young teens. To keep their attention the presentation had to be much more interactive. I learned to remove humor and examples that they would not understand. And I throw more questions at them to keep them engaged.

If you think that you are a good speaker - try speaking to high school students. That will bring you down a notch or few.

Of course there are other reasons why I do this.

There is a special sense of giving to young minds who appreciate the value in what you offer them. Of course not all young minds appreciate your value. I think that we all have a responsibility to help shape young minds. The Future ACES program is impressive in it's goals, organization and accomplishments. I enjoy being associated with such a positive program. I am encouraged by the opportunities that youth have today.

So I contribute my small piece.

It is ironic that so many of my current interests were shapped by my high school days. More importantly, several of my current successes are linked to my high school failures.

On top of the two one hour presentations was a five hour drive. The day was mentally and physcially draining. I'm glad it's over and I look forward to next year.

George Torok
Public Speaking Pro
Presentation Skills Success
Toronto Speech Coach

Executive Speech Coach, Business presentation tips from George Torok, the Speech Coach for Executives.

Speaker Net News

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George Torok
Speech Coach for Executives
Motivational Business Speaker

Executive Speech Coach, Business presentation tips from George Torok, the Speech Coach for Executives.

Power Presentations Tip 12: No, it's not okay

Power Presentations Tips 12

No - it's not okay

The speaker was delivering a product demonstration. He made a statement then added, "Okay?"

And he did it after every few sentences. In fact, he seemed to get lazy and shortened it to, "Kay?"

If you were there you might have shouted, "No, it's not okay!" I certainly was temped to express my annoyance out loud. Instead, I left the room.

Beware of repeating words that add no value to your presentation. "Um" and "ah" are the most common. These are filler words - words that speakers use while they are thinking about their next real words.

You can indentify filler words in a presentation by these two criteria. They add no value to the sentence and they are repeated throughout the presentation in a similar pattern.
The filler words damage your presentation in three ways. They create static around your real words. Some listeners adapt by tuning out the filler words which makes it more difficult for them to hear your real words. Keen listeners will hear every filler word, get annoyed and leave the room like I did. Some of these folks leave their body there but their mind is elsewhere.

Using "Okay?" at the end of your statements is particularly annoying because it sounds like a school teacher admonishing misbehaving students.

If the speaker in this example wanted to confirm understanding of important points then he would have been better to use any one of:
Is that clear?
Are you with me?
Does that make sense?

When you use those questions, look at the audience, pause for several sections, nod yes, and then move on.

That would be okay.

George Torok

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Presentation Skills Question for the Expert

Presentation Skills Question for the Expert:

How do I recover from a memory lapse?

Presentation Skills Expert:
There are a few techniques you can use to recover from a memory lapse.

The first thing to do is to smile and pause. When your audience sees you smiling they assume that you are in control. The pause gives you time to recover.

Pause to regain your thoughts and the attention of the audience.
Repeat the last thing you said. That can jog your memory and the audience thinks that you repeated for effect.

Ask a rhetorical question, "Where do we go from here?" That question might trigger your brain to get on track. Or it might even trigger your audience to throw out some helpful suggestions for you.

George Torok

Presentation Skills Coach

Presentation Skills Articles

Executive Speech Coach, Business presentation tips from George Torok, the Speech Coach for Executives.