Recovering From A Public Speaking Mistake

WRITTEN July 25, 2019 Author: Jen Glantz

Can you remember the last time someone told you that? I can. It was yesterday.

I was speaking in front of a large audience, and I used the wrong word. My brain froze and what came out of my mouth was a few syllables short of the word I meant to use. Oh no – a public speaking mistake!

As I scanned the audience, body language and facial expressions showed they had not caught my mistake. Nobody laughed, as I expected they would, or pointed their finger and called me names.

In fact, I was the one later who reminded me,everyone makes mistakes. The audience had no idea. When giving a speech, you have to be prepared for anything to happen. Yes, things can happen out of our control. Technology can fail, the audience can disrupt, and schedules can change. But we must prepare for how to handle ourselves when we make mistakes.
Here are four tips to help you power through a presentation even when a mishap occurs:
1. Pause and Breathe
When you make an error, stop speaking. Take time to reset. Fill your lungs with oxygen. Rest your throat. Those motions will help you regain your thoughts and get back on track. The audience won’t judge you for pausing. Most of the time, they don’t notice.

Focus on the structure of the speech to help you get back on track. Make eye contact with the audience and maintain positive facial expressions. 
2. Practice Handling Mistakes
How do you handle mistakes when no one is watching? Practice continuing on with a presentation even when it’s not going as planned during a behind-the-scenes run. Avoid stopping and letting out a sigh of frustration. On the day-of your speech, you will do just that. Get good at recovering from unexpected blunders and you will become a stronger speaker.
3. Find the Best Fix
If the mistake you made is noticeable, decide the best route to recovery. Share a brief explanation of what happened. Tell your audience you will come back to a missed point or section. Let them know you will answer a question after the session. Excuse yourself for a moment to switch back to the right slide. Determine the best solution and make it happen on-the-spot. 
4. Avoid Saying Sorry
Delete the word “Sorry” from your vocabulary! If you can, get your presentation back on track without alerting the audience. Saying sorry can slip out as a nervous tick. Instead, replace the word with silence, a deep breath, and a smile. Or maybe put a spin on it with a “Well that didn’t go as planned.”  Stay calm and collect your thoughts. Watch your words. Pick confident ones.

It’s okay to make mistakes when you speak. Everyone does. Recover with pauses, deep breaths and a quick, yet professional, fix.

This information is from the Improving Communications Public Speaking curriculum. If you’re looking for ways to improve your communication skills, register for one of our public classes.

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