My Epic Speaking Fail

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1 NIV).

It started with a tickle.

The gathering place was packed with nearly four hundred women, all listening intently to my faith-filled words. I was excited to deliver my first of four messages at this popular weekend women’s retreat, and prayed that the passionate story of Jesus’ work in my life––transforming me from addict to overcomer–– would be both meaningful and memorable.

Meaningful? Hope so. Memorable? You betcha.

There must have been unique allergens in the festive gathering space, because about 12 minutes into my message, a pesky tickle invaded my throat. I coughed. And coughed. And coughed. Nothing worked. The cough persisted.

Prior training at the Speak Up Conference had prepared me well for challenging moments that suddenly appear during inopportune times. Normally if I need a moment to compose myself, I say, “Turn to your neighbor and briefly share your thoughts.”

But unfortunately, before this coughing fit from h-e-double hockey sticks began, I’d been in the middle of talking about my former cocaine addiction. What was I to do? It wasn’t like I could say, “Turn to your neighbor and share about your drug addiction.” I did try to squeak out between coughs, “Um, take a moment and say hi to your neighbor.” I kept coughing. “Ok, introduce yourself to your other neighbor.” More coughing. Finally I whispered to the emcee, “Can you come tell a funny story?”

In the meantime, attendees were bringing me gum, mints, even a full-size bottle of Robitussin. (I’m not sure why someone had 20 ounces of cough syrup on hand, but that’s another story.) At one point, while I was coughing and frantically chewing on gum, I noticed nearly 800 eyes were completely fixated on me. I replied, “Well, this is awkward.”

The emcee made it onstage and announced, “I don’t have a funny story, but let’s pray.” She prayed. And prayed. And prayed. (I think she decided she’d keep praying until she didn’t hear coughing for a solid five minutes.)

At long last, I stopped coughing, the emcee said amen and left the stage, and I stood solo with microphone in hand wondering, “Now what do I do?” I took a deep breath and asked, “Can y’all believe I train communicators? Geesh. Guess here’s a new ‘what not to do’ for the book. Let’s continue…..”

The women chuckled, stopped digging in their purses for more cough remedies, and we continued. Fourteen women made first time decisions for Christ that night. And if you listen to the recording, thanks to brilliant audio engineers, my coughing fit has been cut out and you’d never know it happened. Wow.

Friend, problems happen. No matter how professional, practiced, or prepared a communicator may be, unexpected things happen at inopportune times.

What do you do if something goes wrong? Just remember A, B, C:

1. Avoid drawing attention to the problem, if possible. (The air conditioning went out? Wipe your brow and keep going.)

2. Be lighthearted. If the audience is aware, smile. As the speaker, you set the tone. (If the microphone shrieks say, “Well, we’re all awake now” and carry on.)

3. Choose to let God use the problem for greater connection. (You tripped up the stairs? I hope you’re ok. Now shake it off. At least you’re memorable!)

How did God use my coughing fit for greater Kingdom connection? The next morning before I began my second message, I shared what my traveling companion said to me the night prior. As I was in our room bemoaning about my epic speaker fail, my friend said, “Cindy, it could have been worse.”

“It could have been worse?!” I wondered. “I had hundreds of women staring while I had a coughing fit. What could be worse?”

She replied, “You could have coughed so hard you peed your pants.”

Good point! It could have been worse! When I shared this story aloud, the women all had a great chuckle, and we moved on. I never brought Friday night up again, and my cough miraculously disappeared. However, God used the coughing fit as a bridge to help break down walls with the audience in significant ways that weekend, both on and off the platform.

Friend, problems happen. Let’s trust God to use our problems for His Kingdom purposes. He never wastes anything, including what we see as epic speaking fails.

Question: When was the last time you felt you blew it? How did God show up in your epic speaking fail?


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1 Comment

  1. Debra J Moerke on 2023-01-03 at 10:36 AM

    Hi, Cindy! I loved it when you shared this story at Speak Up. I felt like I “blew it” while speaking at a huge fundraiser dinner for a pregnancy resource center just months ago. In the middle of my speech, a crazy brilliant bright light flashed in my eyes from the back of the room, blinding me and throwing me totally off my roll with the audience. I was told a light was going to shine, representing the light from a lighthouse. It was the theme of the banquet, and a picture of a lighthouse was just behind me on a screen. The host and emcee had no idea that when they turned it on halfway through my speech, it would hit me directly and blind me. It was like watching the light of a train coming right at me, and it stayed on. I was so thrown off my game that I couldn’t even see the paper, or the podium, where my outline lay to help me get back on track (no pun intended). I had no choice but to request they turn off the light. Even so…I prayed and asked the Lord to save the message and help me to finish with some reasonable ending. I felt like I had let down the host and the audience. After flying home, I received an email with comments from people who attended the banquet. I was amazed at how many of them said that what they liked the best was the speaker and her message. That was me! I was shocked. Little did they know it was Jesus that saved the message. I have learned a few things from that evening, and I will certainly take note of them as I speak at my next event. I love hearing you speak and would love to learn from you. Debra Moerke

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