Did you ever present in a barn? How about a bowling alley? How about a community center where drum lessons are being given in the next room?
Well I've been in all those situations and more and so far I've survived the recurring nightmares and waking up in a cold sweat just thinking about them. I've been diagnosed with PTVD -- Post-Traumatic Venue Disorder.
If you are really gung ho about speaking, you're going to jump at the chance to do just about any speaking engagement. You should do this because it helps you to get really good, really fast. As you get more experienced you'll learn to use your pre-program research to recognize potentially disastrous venues before you agree to speak. But sometimes, even with the best of preparation, you get blindsided and have to present in a lousy venue.
What is a lousy venue? A lousy venue could have one or more of the following problems:
=> Bad lighting
=> Bad sound system
=> Noise coming from outside
=> Numerous sight blocking fixtures
=> Poor heating and air conditioning
=> Large distance between the stage and the seats
This list is by no means comprehensive. One time because of a scheduling mishap, I ended up on the dance floor of the sportsbar during lunch time. I would call this a lousy venue, wouldn't you?
So what do you do? My first piece of mundane, but powerful information is to stay calm and keep smiling. (Don't think I haven't violated this rule before because I just did last month when a very large amount of money was riding on my presentation and nothing was set up when I got into the room.)
Then, determine what is in your control and what is out of your control. If the air conditioning is making noise, you can turn it off yourself or go find a janitor to do it for you. (in past issues I have described ethical bribes where I'll grease a janitor's palm with twenty bucks if he can get something resolved for me in the next five minutes)
But if you've got 500 people waiting and the sound system just blew up, what do you do?
Go directly to the meeting organizers and ask them what they want you to do.
They are under as much or more pressure than you are so again, try to keep smiling and portray a very helpful and accommodating attitude. This is no time for prima donna antics.
Know your schedule in advance and the costs to reschedule airfare, etc and be ready to tell the meeting planner what you can and can't do. For instance, if you must make your flight to be able to get to your next speaking engagement on time, then you certainly can't agree to do the presentation after they fix the sound system if it will make you miss your flight. It wasn't the other group's fault the sound system blew up at this event so you can't cause them problems by being late.
Be creative and be prepared On big events where they have plenty of money, maybe they would agree to charter you a flight or call in the corporate jet if you can stay and get the job done. Maybe the meeting planner of your troubled event knows the meeting planner of your next event and they can help each other out behind the scenes with scheduling so that you can get both jobs done.
On local and smaller events you could have your own portable sound system in the trunk of your car as a backup.
For noise coming from the next room, have some pre-planned ad-libs ready to acknowledge the distraction and continue if possible. If the weather is nice, take people outside (which has it's own set of problems) or go to another part of the building.
I certainly don't have solutions for all the problems you will run into in your speaking career. What I want to get through to you is that bad venues will happen. Sometimes you just can't do anything about it and you must quit or reschedule the event and sometimes you can be flexible and creative and find a way to get the job done. . . . That's what being a pro speaker is all about.
P.S. What did I do about the sports bar presentation? I got manager to turn on the DJ booth and show me how to work the disco lighting. I got the lunch patrons involved and a good time was had by all.