I've had the frequent privilege of delivering talks about entrepreneurship and career development to college students across the nation. It has been one of my favorite ways to give back since I founded Situation Interactive more than a decade ago.
Speaking with hundreds of classes and thousands of students, I've enjoyed the unfiltered, smart questioning, and have found such interactions extremely useful as a business executive.
But the highly publicized horrific events surrounding senseless shootings on college campuses have obviously had an effect on me.
An occurrence during a talk last month that at one time would have been an Animal House type prank instead ended up shaking me to the core, and reassess when it comes to taking precautions for my safety.
What happened that was so scary? A lecture hall door flew open with a bang halfway through a class of about 250 students. A kid wearing a winter hat and dark clothing yelled, "I would like everyone's attention!" He then repeatedly yelled, "I have lunch for my son!" Finally, a student stood up, took the bag from the intruder, and sat down with a smirk.
In the end, it looks like the incident was a harmless joke. And yet the mere 60 seconds of disruption caused me to feel terrified that I was a sitting duck for target practice, helpless to ensure the safety of others, and angry that the professor didn't take control of the room.
Going forward, there are precautions I'm going to take--measures that I would urge other frequent public speakers to also consider:
Define who's in charge.
Had I thought about this, I would have ensured the professor was in a position to oversee the room. He sat in the audience while the action happened behind him. Before future speaking engagements, I'll discuss who's in charge at all times.
Have an exit plan.
Sadly, this is on my agenda now. After the incident, I learned there was a red phone on the lectern to call security in an emergency. Next speaking engagement, I'll ask someone to go over safety procedures.
Prepare for the worst.
I always make it a point to make eye contact with every single person in the room no matter the size of the audience. I now know that keeping audiences engaged (and awake) can double as a tool for keeping an active eye on the room.
In business, we're taught to think nimbly and prepare for the unexpected. I didn't expect to feel personally threatened in a business environment, but this incident is a valuable learning experience to better prepare for the unthinkable.