Friday, December 3, 2010

What to Do When You Screw Up

Okay, so the title isn't very poetic. But it's how it feels... and internally we may draw upon far more colorful terms. You know how it goes.

You’re in the middle of a speech… a performance… a job interview. And even though you’ve prepared extensively (or, at least, are ad-libbing really darn well), It Happens. You say the wrong thing. You realize you’re wearing different shoes on each foot. Your audience doesn’t react the way you want them to. You feel like shrinking into a tiny little ball and disappearing.

Yet you can’t. You’re there, and… they’re there. So what should you do?

When we stay preoccupied with a mistake, we shoot ourselves in the foot. Rather than continuing to connect* with the audience and stay present*, we keep thinking about how we messed up. It’s over. No one will like us, our loved ones will hate us, and we'll never get hired on this planet again.

But this self-flagellation doesn’t help us. (Plus, it's not true.) So what can we do instead? If we give ourselves permission to go outside our comfort zones, to try new things, and to not be perfect (gasp), our audience actually likes us more. I can’t tell you the number of times, when acting or speaking, that I’ve made ghastly mistakes... but it’s more than I’d like to admit. Or is it? Guess what. I make mistakes. Or, um, creative solutions. OK, they’re really screwups.

So, What’s best to do? A few possibilities:
A) Keep going, and act like it didn’t happen. For something minor, this is often just fine. They won’t know if you don’t tell them! So, don’t.
B) Stop, acknowledge it, back up, and offer the correct information. As awkward as this may feel, if it’s truly necessary to not sound completely wrong, then do it. But use humor if you can, and act like it’s really okay. Take yourself lightly, and they will too.
C) Offer a correction later. “Just to clarify, as I might have used an ambiguous wording earlier….” I don't recommend this often, as it can make an error stick in people's minds, but is occasionally appropriate.

No matter what, be okay with it. We’re all human, and most people appreciate being able to admit mistakes and offer corrections without it being a big deal (an interesting juxtaposition of humility and confidence). Most importantly, don’t get in your own way.

*The four key elements to successful performing – be it as a speaker, on stage, or in everyday life – are Presence, Technique, Comfort and Ease, and Connection. All four are easily learned. Inquire if you’d like to learn more.

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