Preparing for the inevitable mistake and how to reframe them for your own sanity!
Public speaking is a high wire act. Sometimes a slip can make the crowd ooh and aah, and sometimes it can send you crashing to the ground wishing you were dead. Fortunately, if you crash while speaking you won’t be hauled away in an ambulance or a hearse. You may wish you could be, but, I promise, it’s all for the best.
It’s when we make mistakes that we are given the opportunity to grow. It’s also when we can prove to ourselves just what kind of bad asses we really are. The meek don’t take risks that can end up in mistakes. The average do not take risks that can wind up in disasters. We are not meek, and we are not average. We are ready to make mistakes, and have disasters, and come out stronger for them. It’s all about following three simple steps.
The best way to make sure no one ever forgets a mistake you made is to pretend it didn’t happen. I have a friend who was a great news anchor. She is very bright, and articulate, and read the teleprompter like a genius — usually. Then one day she mispronounced the name of the Speaker of the House as “Boner.”
Being the professional she is she didn’t even break her stride, she just kept going, being extra careful to pronounce every word she said correctly. No, “excuse me.” No, “I seem to have mispronounced that.” No correction. To this day there is not a person that she worked with on that day that doesn’t remind her of it every chance they get. And it gets her every time.
All it would have taken was one second for her acknowledge it and move on. She still would have been a professional, but she would have been a human as well. Humans like it when other humans make mistakes. That’s when they are the most forgiving.
View your blunder as a chance to showcase your personality. Lean into it to show the audience who really are, and how you deal with adversity. Early in my career I learned that I am an expert at dry, self-deprecating humor. Now, when I flub up, I take the opportunity to show people I am not only a stone cold professional, but I also know how to laugh at myself and come up with a joke on the fly.
I used to have a co-anchor who was a lover of history. When he made a mistake, he would find a way to relate it to one of his heroes with a quote or an example from the history books. One of my favorite moments was when he flubbed the name Saoirse Ronan. He butchered it twenty ways to Sunday. Half way through he threw his hands up and said “Churchill said, ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going,’” and he continued on. I was very glad not to be on camera as I was laughing so hard.
Find the aspect of your personality that works for you, and use your blunder to show it off. Turn your mistake into a time to shine.
DO NOT DWELL! After you have turned the blunder into an opportunity move on with your speech. Do not go back and revisit it over and over again. Do not apologize for it when you are wrapping up. Do not mention it to anyone afterwards. It’s over, you’re still alive, and someone, somewhere, is most likely making an even bigger gaffe.
This doesn’t mean you should completely wipe your mind clean. Take the time to examine your mistake and figure out how you can stop it, or other mistakes like it, from happening again. Like I said, this is a moment to learn and grow more confident in your speaking abilities by improving your preparation practices. Oh, and don’t say “preparation practices” on stage. It will just end in puddles of pain.
The Japanese have an art form called Kintsugi. It involves taking a broken bowl and repairing it using gold. The philosophy behind it is to recognize the history of the object, and how breaks and cracks can make it even better than it was before. By acknowledging your mistakes, embracing them, and moving on, you are doing a very similar thing, and you not only be a better public speaker because of it, but a stronger person as well.