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Ideas for speeches: What to do next if the show does not go on?

Anytime you have to write and deliver a speech, it’s common to face a challenge or two.

But what if something happens to disrupt the event?

Keep this story close at hand in your bank of ideas for speeches, and learn how to pivot when problems arise.


When it comes to a speech, the show must always go on.

The event always happens, and the keynote speaker must always be ready.

There is no forgiveness in deadlines or dates.

Unless, however, you are the keynote speaker at a university commencement outdoors, and Mother Nature has her way with severe thunderstorms.

Yes, it happened.

One of my clients was eager and ready to deliver her commencement address of just 10 minutes.

But the show did not go on.

Luckily, the graduates had the chance to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.

But the rest of the ceremony was cut short because of severe weather.

So there was no commencement speech that day.

My client emailed me this:


“Thunderstorms took the day. They decided to start with graduates receiving diplomas – appropriately so – but then the rain came.
“The last students walked in pouring rain, but got through.
“No speeches were made. They are working on a plan to record.”


My heart sank for her!

I reflected on all we had done.

In the beginning, we had vetted so many great ideas for speeches.

We had collaborated so closely on her remarks.

Her final message was powerful!

Plus, she’d worked so hard preparing for her delivery onstage – in the football stadium! – and was confident, calm and ready to share the most important address of her life.

I waited for an update.

A day later, she told me the speech would indeed be recorded and shared with the graduates and online.

But she was concerned since so many lines in her speech had referenced that day, that place, that moment, which had now passed.

How should we adjust?

My heart sank a second time for her because I knew the truth.

Reacting in a rush, and attempting to fix what was suddenly broken in her speech, would destroy the impact of her powerful remarks.

How best to pivot?

To me, the answer was clear.

Why destroy the speech?

Why not be honest about what had derailed the day?

Why not begin with a preamble to reframe the new context for her powerful remarks?

She liked that idea!

So we collaborated again and came up with this:


Congratulations to the 2021 and 2020 Kansas State University College of Business graduates!
Your celebration is a sweet one considering all you have overcome – first, a pandemic, and then Kansas thunderstorms! – to walk across the stage at Bill Snyder Family Stadium to receive your diplomas on Sunday, May 16.
As a proud alumna of this College of Business, I was honored when Dean Gwinner asked me to be the commencement speaker in spring 2020.
When the pandemic canceled those plans, he asked me to speak this year, but weather interrupted the ceremonies.
I loved watching you walk across the stage and accept your diplomas and congratulations from Dean Gwinner, President Myers, Provost Taber and the faculty.
And I loved hearing all the cheers from your family and friends.
I wish I could have delivered my remarks in the stadium when we were all together. 
I offer these same remarks now as a gift to you and my alma mater.


Here is my challenge to you:

If you are a keynote speaker – and one day for some reason, the show does not go on – what will you do?

How will you react?

How will you respond?

If your remarks will be recorded at a later date, and then shared independently outside of the original event, what will you do next?  

Will you edit in a frenzy?

And run the risk of diluting – or even destroying – your powerful remarks?

Or will you consider another solution, like a preamble, to preserve your powerful message?

Keep this story close at hand in your bank of ideas for speeches so you know how to pivot when problems arise.


If you need good ideas for speeches, work with Teresa Zumwald, an award-winning speechwriter and speech coach.
Check out our speechwriting services, and contact us today!