Raindrops Kept Falling on Her Head

Uh Oh! Are those storm clouds on the horizon?

Graduation season is here and schools around the country are vying for the best commencement speakers.UofC#1a For four years seniors have looked forward to their day in the sun when they will receive their hard-earned diplomas. But they may get sun showers instead.

Have a Contingency Plan

If you’re traveling out-of-town to speak at a commencement, or a business conference, you can’t control the weather but you can be prepared if it rains.

Have a contingency plan in place in case things go wrong. A good friend and client was asked to be the commencement speaker at a major university’s graduation ceremony.

After reading the weather report the day before, the university decided to shorten the ceremony.

Luckily, my friend is a top executive who speaks often in front of large audiences so she was able to rise to the occasion and condense her 10-minute talk into three minutes. Here’s her report:

Well, my Boulder speech was great . . . but . . . due to the literal (or almost) monsoon in Boulder, we had to re-edit late Friday night down to 3 minutes!!! The entire ceremony for 6,000 graduates was shortened to 35 minutes from the usual 2.5 hours!!

So my experience was amazing. I made a joke out of the line 300 days of sunshine in Boulder (a tourism tag line for Boulder) and asked the graduates if they would like the 10-minute version or the Noah’s Ark version of 3 minutes. They cheered!!

I could hardly read due to the rain, so I removed my glasses, watched the type on the paper literally run off, smiled and caught the mood of the crowd. It was spirited. And I never even thought of how big the stadium was or how many people were in the audience. No nervousness at all. Probably because I was drenched and laughed at giving a speech in a see through poncho!

Moral of the story: if ever giving another outdoor speech, always have the pages in those little plastic protectors. I forgot to put mine in them!! The Chancellor’s program notebook had every page in one. Won’t make that mistake again!!

Let a Smile be Your Umbrella

Go through your checklist of “To-Do’s” in advance of packing for your trip. Even if it rains you’ll be able to smile and retain your composure because you’re prepared for the worst.

You can’t depend on the organizers to take care of your every need. They have a thousand other details to worry about.


If the event is taking place outdoors, then take a lesson from my friend if it rains:Rained Out Graduation

  • Protect your notes by inserting each page inside a plastic sheet protectors. Use a large typeface for ease of reading. Boldface your remarks.
  • Bring an umbrella and ask someone to hold it over your head while you’re speaking. Be sure he doesn’t let water drip on to your notes.
  • Change to old shoes. Why ruin your expensive pair?
  • Bring a raincoat and a mini flashlight in case it gets too dark to read.
  • Be concise. Everyone else is being drenched, too. Deliver your two or three key messages, a call to action and then sit down!
  • Be gracious and smile. Your hosts didn’t cause the bad weather. Don’t be a grouch and complain to everyone. They don’t like it either.
  • If appropriate, tell the audience where they can pick up your handouts – inside.


Another friend told me about a business executive who never arrived on time. They called her “the late Ms. Anson,” intended as a double entendre. Make an effort to arrive at any speaking event a day in advance.

If you have to travel on the day of, you risk missing the meeting if your flight is delayed because of bad weather. Why set yourself up for a cliffhanger? It won’t endear you to the organizers if you’re late or miss the meeting altogether. You’ll be rattled, too, if you rush in at the last-minute.


If you’re speaking at a meeting that is not too far from your office, scout the venue yourself at least a week or two in advance. Ask the meeting manager if you can visit the site when another speaker is addressing an audience. You will get a feel for the room and satisfy yourself that the A/V equipment and room setup is up to your expectations.

If you can’t visit, send a checklist of your requirements to the organizer including such items as a lectern, A/V equipment, a table for your handouts, etc. as necessary

Your Talk

Rehearse your talk before you leave. Transfer your presentation to a thumb drive that can be plugged into a computer to project your visuals. Bring extra hard copies, where you can make notes or changes. Also, if the A/V equipment fails (it’s been known to happen), you can always talk from your hard copy.

Another executive we know learned that lesson when he was invited to speak to a graduate class at Columbia University.

In the middle of class the lights went out, and the group decided to continue on the library steps on the quad. When the lights went back on, the students were so entranced by the speaker, who was speaking extemporaneously, they decided not to return to class and he kept right on talking.

Prepare for the best but expect the worst for every speaking engagement. Just because it’s raining on your parade doesn’t mean that you can’t deliver a strong presentation that will have a lasting impact on your audience.

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