Stop Apologizing when speaking! The A in C.O.N.C.E.A.L.

There are two A’s in the 7-part C.O.N.C.E.A.L. tip series.  Most people say they “hate public speaking”, but I believe everyone can get over that with training!   THERE ARE TWO PARTS TO the A in C.O.N.C.E.A.L

  1.  Avoiding Thinking about your speech the-day-of the presentation
  2. Avoid Apologizing when you make mistakes, and other mistakes handling

We’re on the second part of the A in Conceal, part 2 for Avoid Apology and other giving a speech mistake-handling suggestions. 

The challenging part of mistakes is they are made in front of others and feel embarrassing.  WHAT SHOULD YOU DO WHEN YOU MAKE MISTAKES SPEAKING?  That is the topic of the next 3 short articles.  First, consider the topic this way:

Handle the mistake mentally first.  

  1. Expect you will make a mistake.  WHEN you make a mistake implies that you WILL make a mistake!  You are guaranteed to have some kind of mistake in your pre-planned speech. Perhaps it will be an unrehearsed content change, something forgotten, a flub/stutter/stumble, get lost in your notes/content, or you might do or say something you didn’t fully think through during the speech. Even pro’s make mistakes when speaking. When mistakes happen, the audience doesn’t have to know about it, and if they do, you can minimize their impact.  Let’s discuss how to best handle making a mistake when speaking.
  • You made a mistake – so what!  Review is it really a big deal or not that you made a mistake? Whenyou make a mistake, ask “so what”?  A mistake does not mean the speech was bad or a failure!  In fact, making mistakes may even help you sound authentic, an attractive quality. 
  • How you, the speaker, reacts is what matters most, not that you made a mistake.  Usually an audience will not care about the mistake unless you do!  I repeat….a mistake will not be a big deal unless YOU, the speaker, make it an issue! Ironically the audience will take their cues or direction about how to view the mistake from you, the speaker. Mistakes are a common part of even normal conversations, especially if you are nervous. How YOU, the speaker, responds to your mistake tells them how to respond to you and it.  So, let’s review how you should respond.

2. Handle the mistake by not drawing attention to it.    It’s my educated opinion that a mistake in public speaking is NOT a mistake unless you handle the mistake improperly.  Poor handling involves drawing attention to it.  It is quite possible the audience might not even notice a mistake. Often the only way that the audience knows about it is if the person does this, so never do these behaviors

3. Never point out you made a mistake. It’s possible the audience doesn’t know a mistake has been made and won’t unless you inform them, so why point it out? Unless they have your script or plan, do they know you skipped something, flubbed or changed your plan?  Even if they do know you made a mistake, why spend any additional time telling them more about it.

An exception is a seriously misspoken statement when a corrective comment might be needed.

  • Never apologize. When you make a mistake, like above, don’t draw further attention to by including an unnecessary apology. All the apology does is ask the audience to review the mistake, wasting even more time on the apology. Usually these apologies are unnecessary because the mistake didn’t offend, harm or deserve any type of apology.  Don’t waste time apologizing or drawing more attention to a harmless mistake. 
  • Never draw non-verbal attention, such as making negative grimaces or other faces about the mistake. Facials and other negative responses after making a mistake is simply a non-verbal way of drawing unnecessary attention to the mistake.
  • Never start-over. The audience saw you make the mistake and starting over doesn’t erase it. Definitely don’t ask the audience if you can ‘start over’, further highlighting you were unhappy with your present approach.  Simply move forward from where you are in the speech and keep going. If necessary, pause silently for a moment if you need to gather your wits and words and then keep going.
  • Never quit. Quitting is one of the worst responses you can have to an error.  It makes it worse because it will be harder to face the podium the next time. Instead, use the struggling experience as a learning experience to propel you towards more preparation next time, but don’t quit.  Just keep going.

Furthermore, remember the audience may see your speech very differently than your negative self-evaluation!  YOU may be the only one that knows you are not speaking what you had planned!  While you may feel the speech is not going well, the audience may not be viewing it the same way.  Every time I’ve seen a speaker ask to quit, they were doing better than they thought from the perception of the audience. Even if a few stops/starts and stumbles occur, when you get past them, the audience easily forgets and could care less. Quitting ruins a speech more than the mistakes, so Never Quit!

4) Handle the mistake by moving-on, however you can. When you make a mistake, avoid drawing more attention to it by keeping going.  There may be several ways to do this:

5). Stop the wrong line and re-begin with a rephrase.  Simply stop the faulty line and begin a new statement without apology. The audience will follow the revised chain-of-thought and forget about the flub.

  • Use revision transitions.  .  You might also develop a few revision statements you can use. Statements like “let me rephrase that’, or “in other words”, or “another way to say that is”, “what I mean is” and “let me say it this way” help you to transition to a new start.  I recommend speakers prepare and practice a few lines they can employ as flubs occur during speech.  As discussed before, if you seriously misspoke, you could include “scratch what I just said” andthen add a transition to the replacement content, such as “let me resay it this way…..” 
  • Sparing use of humor might also be an option. I’ve seen speakers effectively use self-effacing humor about tongue twisting, drinking coffee or adult beverages before a speech, and similar comments to evoke laughter.  While I prefer avoiding additional attention to a mistake; humor offers appealing likeability and authenticity that can also work in your favor.
  • Pause silently and think!  When you make a mistake and can’t think of what to say next, pause and remain SILENT. Don’t add unnecessary words. Pause, breathe deeply, and take a few seconds to think about what you want to say.  While it may seem like a longer time to you while you desperately grasp for content; however, it is often only a few seconds! 

The audience will wait for you. The brief seconds it takes to reorder your thoughts may not even be noticed by your audience. If the silence is a bit longer, I’ve even seen audiences try and help a struggling speaker by providing suggestions as to where they left off. Wait as long as it takes to figure out a new direction to take and you’ll find the audience graciously waits with you. 

6. Study ways to handle mistakes.  I recommend speakers study how to make mistakes well!   One way is to watch a Pro handle mistakes, such as a TV newscaster or a radio announcer handles mistakes. Watch and listen how they handle the issue. They were trained to casually move-on and keep going with a revised line. They should never apologize as that reflects on the organization they represent.  When a good presenter makes a mistake, they’ve done a great job if you otherwise might not have noticed.  I once listened to a radio announcer so messing up a weather announcement that they allowed a few seconds of silent air time before revising from the point of the error but without apology … a perfect save.

In conclusion, everyone makes mistakes and you WILL make one or more in your speech.  Expecting and planning for mistakes will help you manage them.Remember that making a mistake will not be a big deal unless YOU make it one!  Try tactics such as pausing, taking a deep breath, revise what you are going to say and keep going. Never quit!  Mistakes don’t ruin speeches unless you make a fuss over them or quit!  The audience will not give mistakes further notice or thought if you don’t, and your speech can still be viewed as fabulous!

I invite you to comment.  Have you made a mistake when speaking and what suggestion could readers use you learned? 


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