What If I Make a Mistake?

Much of public speaking anxiety comes from being afraid of making a mistake. So what happens when you make a mistake? What should you do?

If you prefer audio only, you can listen to the full episode on my podcast below or on iTunes.

We've all experienced it. You're on stage giving a presentation, everything is going well. You're in the flow, and then it happens. You say something wrong or you do something wrong, and there you are with everyone watching, unsure how to proceed. First of all, let me tell you. If you are afraid of making a mistake, you might just as well accept this very simple fact: Mistakes will happen. Whether you want them to or not, they just will. Something will go wrong. It's not a matter of whether you will make a mistake or not, it's about how you prepare for them and what you do once they happen.

How do you prepare? Simple. Think of all the worst-case scenarios of all the blunders that could happen and write them all down. Having your fears out in the open is the first step in confronting them. Next, think each scenario through. What can you do to prevent it from happening? What can you do if it does happen? The amount of confidence and certainty you get while going through this exercise is enormous.

What would you do if you made a mistake? Maybe you switch some things around that were not supposed to be in that order, or maybe you forgot to mention a few important points and now it's too late in the talk to insert them. What do you do? Just keep on going on like nothing happened. It's not like the audience has a transcript of your talk in front of them that they go through and make sure that you said everything you're supposed to say. No, they have no clue what you were going to say, so as long as you stay on track and just keep on going, you’ll be fine and it will go unnoticed. The most important thing is not to fixate on your mistakes and just keep on going.

What about a mistake that is noticeable? Maybe you pronounced a word wrong, or maybe you lost your train of thought and blanked on the stage, or maybe you clicked through your presentation way too many times and lost your spot. It’s noticeable and it happens. I stumbled on stage once, I almost fell down! You bet it was noticeable. You know what I did? I laughed at myself, I cracked a joke, and I continued going like nothing happened. Your audience is a lot more likely to forgive you for making a mistake and laughing at yourself than for making a mistake, falling into pieces, apologizing profusely, and making a big deal out of it. It is not a big deal if you make a mistake. Mistakes make us human. And your audience will forgive you for making a mistake.

I watched Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank give a talk on overcoming adversity and becoming a household name. She was incredibly funny and is a great public speaker. As she was building up to her culmination point, she accidentally clicked too many times and skipped all the way to her very funny punchline slide way ahead of time. Now, if you reveal a punchline slide way too early, you know, it breaks the flow a bit and ruins your story. Do you think Barbara fell into pieces and started apologizing to us? No, of course not. She laughed at her clumsiness, she made a joke. She went all the way back where she stopped and continued going like nothing happened. Do you think the audience was sitting there going, ugh, Barbara doesn't know how to use a clicker? No, of course not. We all thought she was incredibly funny and charming and human.

Next time you make a mistake, think quickly on your feet. Is it the type of mistake that your audience will notice? If the answer is no, just keep on going like nothing happened. If the answer is yes, laugh at yourself, correct the mistake, and keep on going. Regardless of what happens, do not fall into pieces, do not fall apart. Mistakes will happen. It's called life, y'all. It's not whether you are making a mistake or not. It's your reaction to that mistake that's going to make or break your talk. As Barbara Corcoran said in an interview about what makes a successful entrepreneur, "They take a hit, they feel sorry for themselves for about a minute, and then they get right back up, and they're boxing again." Change the words a minute to two seconds, print out this quote, and paste it on your computer. This is the formula how to deal with mistakes on stage.

I hope you enjoyed this little piece of advice. Have a fantastic day!

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