It is the worst nightmare of a lot of public speakers… messing up on stage in a significant way. Not a little stumble as you go up the stairs, not tripping over the same word a couple of times, not trying to use the pointer and it does not work from the first try on. No. seriously messing up. Forgetting your entire speech and staring at the crowd in horror. Bringing the wrong slides. Consistently saying the wrong name or number and absolutely confusing the crowd.
All of these things are pretty horrible, and very difficult to come back from. Not impossible, because most people are generally very understanding and take little pleasure in seeing someone else fail. Yet feeling mortified when on stage is not conductive for a good speech. Want to know how to deal with failing and why it is a good thing? Keep on reading!
So before we head into why messing up on stage is a good thing once in a while… A quick little guide on coming back from a big mistake!
It is a very human response to panic when something goes wrong. It is even biological! Your heart rate shoots up as your body tries to establish if you are imminent danger. As a result, the primal part of our brains tells us to panic and run. Don’t give in! Consciously decide you are not going to panic. Telling yourself you are not going to freak out actually helps to stay calm. Most people are not used to be placed in stressful and unpredictable situations, and using your rational brain to override the panic is a useful trick. Consider this: is messing up the end of the speech?
Take a moment
This second step might be the most important one of them all. You need to close your eyes for a couple of seconds, and take a breath or two. Really allow to sink in what happened. In what capacity did you mess up? Does it affect your speech or not? Now open your eyes, and move on.
Taking slow and controlled breaths helps to slow down your heart rate, and steady your breathing. We usually breathe subconsciously, and forcing that natural rhythm to suit your needs is a way to take back control.
One of the most powerful things you can do when you mess up in a “silly” way is address it in a humorous way. You don’t have to crack an actual joke, but a simple “well, that was unfortunate” is often enough to diffuse the situation.
Like stated above, most people in the audience take no pleasure in seeing you fail. Additionally, your “failure” is often not as noticeable as you would think yourself. Though the crowd is very aware of you, considering that you are on a stage with spotlights pointing your way, they are not as hyper-aware as we tend to think. They will see you stumble or hear a mispronunciation, but they cannot hear your thoughts nor know your past. For example, when you struggled with a certain part of a presentation while practicing, you are almost too aware of mistakes there. But the audience does not.
Use the momentum
You messed up, took a few good deep breaths, and briefly addressed what you did. Now it is time to move on. You do this by simply picking up where you left of, or a minute or so before where things went wrong. All you have to do is improvise and overcome. What happened? Did your mind blank? Accept it, take a few steps, take a look at your slides and start over. Did you bring the wrong slides? Present without slides. Kept saying the wrong name or statistic? Clearly correct yourself and pay attention that you do not repeat that mistake again. It really comes down to improvisation and relying on your practice.
So why is it good to fail?
These tips will help you bounce back from a mistake… But you clicked the article to find out why it can be a good thing to fail on stage! What good can possibly come from messing up your story sequence? Simple really… Growth.
Reflect on how you messed up, and be really honest with yourself. How did you mess up? Why did you mess up? What can you learn from that? There is no better way to learn about what aspects of yourself you need to improve.
Some mistakes do not need deep reflection. For example, if you stumbled and fell flat on your face, there is not much to reflect on. Except that you need to look where you put your feet. But other mistakes can tell you a lot about yourself as a public speaker, and even about yourself as a person.
Another example, you brought the wrong slides because you left late to the presentation. This happened because you grabbed the wrong usb or did not check if you had uploaded it in your cloud. What can you learn from this? First of all to leave on time, so you are not rushing. Second, when you are reviewing slides or making small changes, always take the time to put them in the right spot. Both of those learnings come down to your time management and planning.
A final example! You kept saying the wrong name or number, and the crowd was staring at you and your slides blankly. What can you learn from this? It depends, were you confused because you made some last-minute changes to your presentation? You might want to consider planning your presentation-reviews better, so you have time to do a run-through and get used to a new element in the presentation. Were you confused because you did not spend enough time on your presentation practice? Take the time to practice!
What can you learn from your failure? Critical self-reflection is important in all aspects of life and all fields of work, but when you are your own product, it is essential!