Although I admit to rolling around laughing as this scene played out in my mind, the story reported last week of a priest accidentally showing indecent images during a presentation to parents at a primary school is awful on many levels. (If you missed it, it’s here.)
Since this blog is about public speaking, I will confine my comments to the public-speaking aspects of the incident. The outstanding lesson to learn from this is never, never to allow any images that might embarrass us anywhere near the projector. Use a different memory stick. Take no chances.
Had I been in Fr McVeigh’s shoes, I too would have felt an overwhelming urge to make a hasty exit. However, a better way of dealing with it, I suggest, would be to brazen it out. If you’re going to deny all knowledge of the offending pictures, a demonstration of surprise and outrage as they are first discovered can only lend verisimilitude to your case, as well as allowing you to stay in control of the situation. Once you’ve bolted from the room, you’ve lost any authority you may have had as the speaker. Slinking back in later and trying to pretend nothing has happened will not help your ‘horrified and distracted’ audience to forget what they’ve seen.
In public speaking, as in life, nothing is so dreadful it can’t happen. Careful preparation can prevent a lot of shame and misery; for the rest, we have to rely on a well made mask and an iron will to help us to confront whatever has befallen us and to minimise the damage.