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