If you are going to go highly interactive with the keynote, you better be ready to handle anything and everything that takes you "off plan." Tonight's detours while keynoting for 60-minutes in front of 300 student leaders and adult advisors:
1. Stage art falling off the wall.
2. Girl in front row laughing uncontrollably for 3 minutes.
3. A mystery explosion in the fourth row that I think was a balloon popping.
4. Microphone signal dropping out every 12 minutes.
5. What sounded like a herd of water buffaloes stampeding in the room next door. Was actually a facility worker pushing a cart full of something.
Biggest reason for going interactive on keynotes is to effectively manage attention spans and to help the audience "do the message" not just hear the message. Great way to manage the interactions to maximize attention and retention is to build in transitions - funny to solemn, moving to still, music to voice, listening to talking, loud voice to quiet voice, etc.
Best tips for handling the off-plan moments:
1. Expect them beforehand. Have a mind like water. Don't get caught off gaurd by having a rigid mind that absolutely has to stay on plan. This will get you in a more pliable mind-set that will be able to remain calm, relaxed and responsive (instead of reactive).
2. Trudge through them with a smile on your face and love in your heart. Unless it is someone actually being distruptive in a harmful manner, smile through the off-plan moments and enjoy them. If you are calm and enjoying the off-plan moments, your audience will be more likely too, as well.
3. Handle it appropriately relative to the distraction's size and context. If it is something small, let it go with maybe a raised eyebrow and a smile. If it something larger (like Alexia in the front row who could barely breathe while explosion-laughing for 3-minutes), stop where you were going and go ahead and let the moment live. If the distraction is large, your audience's attention is there anyway, so it is pointless for you to go on. Let your personality decide how you handle them, but the default is to have some fun with it (in a positive manner).
4. Jump back on track right were you left off. You don't have to spend time with lines like...
Now, where were we?
Now that that is over...
So, let's get back to where we before that little train wreck...
Just restart from where you were and act like it never happened. It is amazing how quickly a group can shift attention back and forth if their leader (you) takes them there confidently, smoothly and efficiently.
5. If you have a good number of off-plan moments (like I had tonight), you are taking time away from your original plan. Don't try to cram everything in. Better to make quick adjustments mid-stream, prioritize your remaining content and let the audience really get the big messages than to have them barely remember all of them because you had to blow through.
6. Above all else, remember that everything that happens does so for a reason. Just because you didn't plan for it to happen, does not mean it wasn't supposed to happen. Be like a great surfer - live in the moment, keep your feet underneath you, be ready for anything and have an awesome time!