Speakers’ Nightmares and “Daymares”

Last year I became a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA) and also the MN Chapter so I attended my first MN Chapter annual gala. The night was wonderful and I enjoyed getting to know other fellow speakers. One of the things I learned that night was that all speakers have “speakers’ nightmares.” I thought it was funny and, up to that point, I had not experienced any nightmares yet. Until the very next month, June, 2016. I had eleven speaking engagements within four weeks and I also had to deal with a death in the family. Of those eleven presentations, eight were on different topics and four of those were brand new topics I was just creating. One of the new topics was an all-day banking seminar that I was presenting for the first time at a banking association. These engagements included local travel in MN within three hours from home, two out of state conferences, one very early breakfast keynote meeting, one book club, and one new webinar.

My first nightmare was when I dreamt that my new Square Chip Reader got lost and I didn’t have it to sell my books at an event. In my dream, I had left it on the book table at a previous event. When I woke up, I immediately got up and looked for it. I found my little “Square thing” (as I call it) and was relieved to know it was only a dream.

The next night I was up late working on the one-day seminar so I fell asleep thinking about it. That night I woke up at 3:45 a.m. with a great idea on how to start the seminar with a special networking exercise using the attendee roster. I should have written the idea down right there at night. Instead, I kept thinking about it for a whole hour before I finally fell asleep again.

The worst nightmare I had that week though was that I had started the one-day seminar and I decided to run an errand during our first break. In my dream, my kids were all of the sudden little kids again and we were in an office building where I kept getting lost. My kids kept getting lost too so I spent hours, in my dream, looking for them, then looking for my car in the parking lot. When I was finally in my car, my GPS could not find the place to get me back to teach the seminar. I couldn’t get a hold of anyone at the event place until 5 p.m. and by then they had let everyone go because I didn’t show up to continue the class. I woke up almost in tears and with such anxiety! But I was, once again, relieved knowing it was only a dream—a speakers’ nightmare!

The first four events during these marathon of events went excellent, the book sales went great and my little “square chip reader” worked like a charm. Then the day of the seminar came on Tuesday, June 7. But the entire weekend before, my father-in-law, who had been ill for quite some time, suddenly became worse. His condition was deteriorating by the day and then by the hour. That Saturday afternoon on June 4, he was given two days left to live. So my husband and his sister decided to fly early on Sunday to be with their dad in Springfield, Missouri. That Saturday night, I called my father-in-law to say my goodbyes just in case I didn’t get to see him on Wednesday when we planned for me to fly out to MO.

I had to stay behind because of my commitment that coming Tuesday. That night I barely slept thinking I needed to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to take my husband to the airport. I was also agonizing over the fact that I was not going to be with him during this time in his life. My husband left on Sunday and I was not able to focus on my seminar presentation for the rest of that day nor Monday. I decided at that point, I knew my material and it was in God’s hands as to how it would go.

Monday night my husband informed me that his dad may not make it for me to see him on Wed. The hospice care had told them it would be a matter of hours. And it was… My husband texted at 3 a.m. telling me his dad had passed away at 2:53 a.m. the morning of June 7. I had not only gone to bed late and couldn’t get to sleep but I couldn’t fall asleep for another hour after hearing the news. I only slept 3 or 4 hours when Tuesday morning came, the day of the whole-day seminar. I was exhausted!

As I left home on my way to the event, my road was completely at a stop so I decided to take another route. After about a mile on the new road, I came up to a sign “Road Closed.” So I decided to turn left and take yet a new route, when I encountered another sign, “Road Closed.” My GPS at this point was going crazy “recalculating” and “rerouting” me back to where I started. I couldn’t believe I was lost in my own neighborhood! So I decided, almost in tears, thinking that I was going to be late to my event, to zig-zag my way to the freeway. I figured I should end up there eventually. And I did. I got on the freeway finally. But when I got there, it was at a complete stop. My GPS now said I was to arrive at 8:47 a.m. and my event was to start right at 9 a.m.

I finally got there and went straight to connect my laptop. Of course, as it is expected on a day like that one, my laptop couldn’t recognize the projector so we turned it off. And of course, we couldn’t turn the projector back on for a few minutes until it finally turned on and my laptop recognized it. I said, in front of the class, “Yes! Success! I was nervous about the technology not working right not about speaking to you all.” And they all laughed. And remember the introduction exercise I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about? When I first got there, the seminar organizer informed me that she had not printed the rosters so I tried not to panic and asked politely to please make copies quick, which she did. We then distributed the rosters to the attendees right before the seminar started.

The event planner introduced me and we began the class. Everything turned out excellent. Because of this short networking exercise we did at the start, everyone felt free and comfortable to continue sharing and participating during the rest of the class. Everyone had a great time and learned a lot.

This day was not a nightmare… it was a “daymare” as one of my little nephews once told me. He said he had “nightmares and daymares.” After I laughed, I asked him, “Why do you call them “daymares”? He explained, “Because I have bad dreams sometimes when I take naps during the day.” Brilliant! I thought that was a great analogy of how we can, too—even as we’re awake—experience daymares.

I hope that by reading my stories of both nightmares and daymares you were inspired to remember that no matter what goes on, we, as professional speakers must go on and do a good job for our audience. That day, no one knew that my father-in-law had just passed away early in the morning. But also, remember that regardless of how wrong some things may go sometimes, everything turns out okay in the end.

Marci Malzahn is a banking executive and founder of Malzahn Strategic (www.malzahnstrategic.com), a community bank consultancy focused on strategic planning, enterprise risk management and talent management. Marci is also an author and motivational/ inspirational speaker on banking topics as well as leadership topics.