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How to recover when your speech goes badly

Ginger Leadership Communications

The biggest fear in public speaking is messing up. Big time messing up. Bomb dropping bad. The kind of messing up that makes the audience lob rotten vegetation as you sob and run from the stage. This fear is pervasive and all encompassing and can definitely be the reason a speech goes badly. When we show vulnerability in some way, by forgetting our lines or dropping our props, we fear that we’ll completely lose credibility with our audience.

If you find yourself making a mistake in your speech, it can quickly escalate into a full blown catastrophe. If you make a mistake and feel self-conscious, if you decide “Gosh my audience must think I’m very unprofessional”; you are sending signals to your audience that you are indeed not that professional. Here’s how to recover when your speech goes badly. 

Find your inner confidence

Collect and internalize all the data that supports your ability to do a good job, no matter what happens. For example:

  • Your experience on the subject matter, matters most. What is it that YOU have inside that will not disappear, no matter what happens during your speech?
  • Your ability to succeed. Remind yourself of all the times you’ve been successful, be it public speaking or a success in another area that involves communication. Remember that even when things did go wrong i the past, at the very center of your being is someone who can – and does – succeed.
  • Remember that you DO shine. Think of when you’re most comfortable. When you’re around friends think of how fun, engaging, interesting, and entertaining you are (otherwise they wouldn’t be your friends right? Right. ). This is who you are, at your very core, no matter how well your talk does or doesn’t go.

Let it roll off your back – Weeble style. 

Let disturbances pass you by, like ‘Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down’. When we are anxious we tend to see things in a harsher light. If you learn how to “let things go” without reacting, you’ll develop the skills needed when the unexpected happens as a public speaker.

Learning to be flexible is like a tree bending (or Weeble wobbling) in the wind. It might seem like your projector is out to get you or your laptop has suddenly turned evil, that’s just not the case. What makes it “good” or “bad” is how you choose to react or not react. If you remember who you are at your core, you can objectively let the failed (not evil) laptop incident pass and see it as an opportunity to try something different in the moment.

Ditch the urge to be “perfect”

  1. Your audience is more often than not, on your side. If you make a mistake, they have compassion. They are not looking to cut you down or ridicule you, unless you’re dealing with a sniper in the room. Just accept you made a mistake and move on with grace. Your audience will go with you.
  2. Unless your mistake brings about mass extinction or the end of life as we know it, a blooper on the stage is NOT the end of the world. Odds are, no one else noticed… so why do you?
  3. Relax and it will actually be better. As Seymour Segnit, phobia expert – Founder and President of CTRN, once said, “the anxious energy that often goes into trying to make something absolutely perfect is totally counterproductive.” The more you attempt to be perfect, the more you are likely to make a mistake.

The best public speakers make mistakes and then move on. There have been countless professional speakers with malfunctioning technology, broken heels, and even forgetting their lines. It happens. What’s different about each of these speakers is that they acknowledge the blunder, usually with humor, and then move on. They don’t bring undue attention to the goof and they don’t let it derail them from their message. They get on with it!

Audience Time-Space Continuum

If we haven’t given ourselves permission to take up the time of the audience, we feel we haven’t the right to take up that “space”. This speaks to confidence in yourself, your message, and whether or not you feel as if you’re “bothering” the audience with your speech.  Once you begin to realize that your words are going to bring value to your audience you’ll soon see that you are indeed providing them with a useful tool.  This tool, your speech or presentation, has a right to be given the space and time it deserves.

Refocusing on the importance of what you have to say instead of worrying about what the audience thinks allows you to see the value of what you are offering. You will allow your words their proper space and decrease the chance of tripping over your own tongue.

Remember… One small space for you = one even smaller space for your audience. One slow-and-steady-I-deserve-to-be-heard space = one huge LEAP for your audience!

Adjust your perceptions

Maybe just maybe… it wasn’t as bad as you thought. We’re always our own worst critic… you know it’s true. What may seem like a HUGE screw up in your estimation could have been totally overlooked by your audience. They ARE there to see you, WANT to hear what you have to say, showed up and suited up to hear your words of wisdom. Perhaps they got what they needed after all. Don’t let your nerves do the talking. Adjust your perceptions when you get feedback from the audience. Live in reality and not the fear in your head.  Ahem, a little perspective please! It’s rarely as bad as you imagine:

  • What my nerves say: “I was blushing like crazy and everyone was looking at me wondering if I was about to explode. It was terrible.”
  • Reality for the audience: “Yes, it was a little bit hot in the room.”
  • What my nerves say: “I was so nervous I forgot everything I wanted to say, there were these big awkward moments where I had to look through my notes to find my place. It was terrible.”
  • Reality for the audience: “Good speech, I liked it.”
  • What my nerves say: “The powerpoint went wrong, the computer crashed and I couldn’t use my presentation at all. It was terrible.”
  • Reality for the audience: “I really enjoyed the speaker’s stories, it was much more like a conversation than a presentation… very natural.”
  • What my nerves say: “I put on the wrong slides, then I spilt my water, then the cat escaped from the previous presenter and everything was completely crazy. It was terrible Reality for the audience: “Oh yes, there was that funny bit at the beginning with the cat. The speaker did really well though. If that had been me I think I would have died…”

What we really need to remember when we think our speech goes badly,  is to stop taking ourselves and our public speaking so seriously. After all, what’s the worst that can really, honestly happen? Say your nerves do take over, say you do screw your presentation up, say you do get a few rolling eyes in the back of the room… so what?

Your professional reputation has probably survived worst in the past! So don’t imagine that one little slip is going to cause your whole house of cards to come tumbling down.

Relax. Because when you enjoy yourself, you are less tense. When you are less tense, you make less mistakes. When you make less mistakes there’s less chance that your presentation nerves will take control.

When you relax, you will also see that there are people in your talk who are enjoying what you have to say, even if 5% of the room are disinterested. Soothe your fear with truth. The sky is not falling. Promise.

Ginger Leadership Communications

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