Saturday, April 15, 2006

What to do when a Fire Alarm Goes Off

A couple of days ago I was presenting to an association and the meeting was held in a board room on the 44th floor of an office tower. About one third of the way into my presentation, we hear the loud beeping that indicates a potential fire situation. As anyone who works in one of these towers knows, you wait for the instructions to come over the loudspeakers to see what to do next. Usually they instruct you that they are investigating a condition and to stand by for further instructions. But not this time. The announcement was that a fire situation existed in our area and we were to evacuate immediately. What would you do as a presenter? Fortunately, I have learned from my CAPS and NSA colleagues that as a presenter, you must continue to keep your focus on what is best for your audience. I turned to the three people from the firm whose offices we were in and asked them where we go. They explained where the stairs were and I made sure that everyone followed the directions to the stairs. As a presenter, I believe it is my job to be the last one out of the room, to make sure I take care of my audience first. So after the last person left, I closed the door and followed the group down the stairs. We found out it was a false alarm after going down 14 floors, so everything was OK in the end and we all came back to the meeting room and finished the session. But I share this because a number of people said to me that they are not sure every presenter would have been the last person out of the room. One of the key points in my presentation philosophy is that the presentation is about the audience, not you or your slides, and I consider that my responsibility in an emergency situation is no different. Next time you present, be prepared for any emergency situation - know where the exits are and calmly direct your group towards the appropriate exit and follow them after you ensure everyone has left the room.


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