Help, I have to replace someone!

One of your colleagues is no longer available for the next convention! You’re seized by panic as you discover that you are designated to replace him. How can you turn this poisoned gift into an opportunity to strengthen you speaking and leadership skills? Like in the theater, when you have to replace an actor, you’ll be able to organize the work of appropriating the material around three dimensions: narration, staging and performance. We will help you succeed in this new challenge. On the program: conveyance and handover of the ideas to ensure the success of the speaking engagement.


In a few days the annual seminar will take place. Problem: one of the speakers who was to present on the 2nd morning will not be able to make it that day. Neither one, nor two, but all eyes are on you; you’ll have to replace him. And you, who thought you would be sitting around for 2 days… are suddenly propelled to the front of the stage and you have only a few days to prepare.

You may never have run into this situation before. So much the better, you say! Because in business, it’s not uncommon to face some unforeseen events in speaking. A broken projector, a PowerPoint that suddenly disappears, an almost nonexistent audience, even a speaker who messes up! What if we are the replacement? Where do we begin? Take a deep breath and read this advice carefully, we’ll answer your questions.


Where to start?

Here you are, you’re backed into a corner and not necessarily in the best conditions. The first step is to accept the situation. It’s not the time to harbor resentment, but to appropriate Shakespeare’s words: “what cannot be avoided, we must embrace it.”

It is not a trivial matter to replace someone: whether you’ve been put in a difficult spot or not, it is you who will be on stage. The audience may be understanding, but they will rarely be forgiving. After all, the audience had nothing to do with what happened. Their time is precious and if you agree to present, you must take on the responsibility that falls on you.

To better understand the stakes and the roles of each player, let’s make the parallel with a Theater play. After all, it’s common to have to replace an actor, and the analogy with a presentation works pretty well.

A play is made up of three dimensions: storytelling, staging and performance. On each of these aspects there may be a requirement, but you will also have a responsibility.


  • Narration: passing the baton to the replacement

If we take the example of the play, the narration is the territory of the author: how is the story built and how does each important stage bring us from the beginning to the end of the story? It is usually the responsibility of the speaker you are replacing to be clear about the structure, not of the room, but of the presentation. This handover cannot be limited to sending a PowerPoint presentation. It’s like asking an actor to prepare to perform in a play by only sending him the stage floor plan!

You need to have a clear vision of the project and what it will change for the audience. First, the replaced speaker must explain and clearly convey the idea of his project to you.

Like the Pitch, you will have to submit it to the questions: what is the idea? What are the elements that make this project unique? And, what does the speaker propose concretely through his idea? He will thus be able to send you the core of the message, the trace that will have to be left during the presentation.

But his job doesn’t end there. He must also share with you the structure of his reasoning, the argument to be mastered and all the important steps; this is what we call Storytelling. What possible resistance to the project will you encounter? How legitimate will it be? What do we do to answer to it? What will the response bring to the audience? Ideally, the replaced speaker will have built a suitable narrative thread. This thread is the scenario of the presentation. It enables you to organize different ideas and provide transitions between each one.

By being clear both on the idea and on the structure of the presentation, you will have the cards in hand to appropriate the story and deliver an effective message that leaves a strong trace.


  • Staging: A job of adaptation for the replacement

In the theater, staging is the territory of the director, or at least, of the outside view of someone who remains the guarantor of the overall meaning and the objective of the event. This could be your manager, or the com manager in charge of the event. Here, you will be able to adjust your speech according to the other speakers, the use of the stage and the interaction with the presentation medium.

Through the lens of our method, the HUBSTORY® is the Story design step. Away from the stage, you’ll have to adjust your speaking performance. Like a costume, you should not change the initial pattern of the presentation, but adapt it to your size. To do this, you need to create a tailor-made suit around the initial structure. This suit can, among other things, include visual aids (photos, slides, etc.). However, beware of the pitfall of the already ready PowerPoint presentation. Indeed, re-using the support of the original speaker can be dangerous, because the slides don’t depend on your words but on how you tell the story. Don’t hesitate to simplify and insert the content that will amplify the duo that you will form with your visual aids.

Finally, an effectively constructed presentation is like a tailor-made suit. If you have to replace someone, you must take the time to run through the presentation with the initial speaker to adapt it to your size.


  • The performance: an expression of your sincerity and your commitment

Beyond the visual aids, you must also and above all adapt the manner of conveying the final message to your own emotions and your own personality. You must embody this project with your posture and your feelings. A speaker is not an actor, but he must make the effort to embody his subject.

In the previous steps, you noted the intentions of the previous speaker and those who invited him to speak. Now you have to clarify yours. Hiding behind the previous speaker as an excuse for incomplete preparation is not satisfactory. Why are you here? Why does this make sense to you? What’s your opinion? What trace do you want to leave? This is how you will get to the end of the job, making it a moment where you can assert your Leadership.

The project is not yours, you may even disagree with some of its aspects. You have every right to express questions or doubts. On the other hand, you cannot let the audience doubt your word. By adapting and fully appropriating the subject, your objective, beyond delivering the message, is to convey what is most precious to you: your sincerity and your commitment.

Let’s not forget those for whom this advice comes too late and who have been marked by a speech that went wrong. You still have to prepare for your next intervention. And here too, we have a tip to give you!