Speeches don’t always go as planned, no matter how much you’ve rehearsed in front of the mirror or how much of an expert you are in public speaking. There are times when you’ll really lose your train of thought, stutter, or digress too much. But how do you recover from these mistakes? Do you just ignore them?
If you made a mistake during a speech, the best way to recover is by pausing and taking a breath, skipping the apologies, being humorous about it, poking fun of yourself, smiling, and moving forward.
The tips I shared above are by no means complete. If you are interested in learning more useful tips on getting back on your feet after making a mistake, read this guide until the end!
How to recover from mistakes during a speech
Everyone makes speech mistakes. There’s no sense beating yourself up for it since it happens all the time! In fact, it makes you more human in front of your audience.
If you deal with the mistake correctly, you can even use it to your advantage — maybe it’ll wake some snoozing audience, serve as an ice breaker, or a breather between sensitive speech topics.
That being said, here are some tips that can help you recover from mistakes during a speech:
1. Pause and take a breath
If the mistake you made is pretty big, take your time and pause. I know this will draw more attention from your audience, but this will prevent you from babbling words that may further worsen the situation.
Once you made a big mistake, pause for a while, breathe and collect your thoughts. After which, explain yourself and make sure you look in control of the situation.
2. Don’t apologize
Unless the mistake is really offensive or drastic, do not apologize. Apologizing would only make you feel embarrassed, and it will reduce your credibility as the speaker. People who did not notice the mistake in the first place might think that it is a big deal, too, and become distrustful of whatever you’ll say next.
3. Ignore the mistake if it is small
Ask yourself this, will your audience talk about the little mistake you made after your speech? If not, then do not acknowledge it. Move on. Mistakes like brief stuttering, tiny grammar errors, and clicking the wrong slide would not hurt anyone.
You only own up to a mistake if it is informational, like saying the wrong name, date, or other sensitive information. Or if you made an insensitive remark and you only realized when it is already out there.
4. Be humorous about the situation
Once you make a mistake, your audience becomes uneasy when you are. Thus, you have to be quick-witted and make fun of the situation.
For instance, if there is a technical problem with your presentation, say something like, “Are you ready to wait one whole year for this to get fixed?” or if your laptop suddenly crashes, say, “Of course, it will crash down when it really matters.” In these situations, puns are also really helpful.
5. Poke fun at yourself
To make a mistake even lighter, you can also poke fun at yourself. Sel-deprecating humor especially works best in this situation. If you are already making fun of yourself, your audience won’t be too uptight about it.
6. Keep smiling
If you are not good with jokes, smiling after you’ve said a mistake could also lighten the situation. Smiling signals your audience that everything is fine and that it is not a big deal. If the mistake is really big, do not smile for too long and make sure to correct it right away.
7. Move forward
Again, dwelling on the mistake for too long won’t do you any good. Don’t let your audience be uncomfortable for a long time. If it is worth acknowledging, then do acknowledge it, but then move on. The longer you linger on the mistake, the more damage it is making not only to your audience but also to your train of thoughts.
8. Make the end of your speech unforgettable
The last ten minutes of your presentation will make or break your speech. Make sure to make it really remarkable to the point that it will be the subject of discussion the next day— not the silly mistake you made.
What happens to your speech when you make too many mistakes?
If you make too many mistakes during your speech, two things can happen. You will lose your credibility in the eyes of your audience, and you will feel really bad about yourself.
I guess the latter doesn’t need explaining, but the first one needs a bit of clarification. As you make a mistake, you are causing your audience to lose their trust in you. And when they lose their trust, so is their respect and attention.
If you made a little mistake once or twice during a speech and you were able to recover from it nicely, it would not be that big of a deal.
But if the mistakes are huge and you keep making them, your audience will start to doubt if you deserve to be the speaker in the first place. You will be thoroughly humiliated, and most of your audience will become hostile toward you.
I am not saying all these to frighten you. What I’m getting at is that you really have to prepare before delivering your speech. Also, re-read the tips I have shared above from recovering from mistakes.
How to avoid mistakes during a speech
Avoiding is always better than cleaning up your mistakes. This adage is also true when delivering speeches. Here, I have listed some proven techniques that can help you minimize the chances of making a mistake during your talk. These tips are not bulletproof, but they really work for many others!
It goes without saying that practicing what you are going to say directly impacts your preparedness and your tendency to make mistakes during your presentation.
As such, you have to make sure that you run your speech 100 times before the day of your speech. This is especially essential if you will talk in front of a highly esteemed audience or professionals.
2. Make a presentation
Presentations are made to help you deliver your speech in an organized manner. In fact, in a study published in Taylor and Francis, presentations and any type of visual aid help reduce speech anxiety. Use your presentation to help you remember the flow of your speech, but don’t make it excessive to the point that everything you’ll say is already in it.
3. Prepare for anything
There are so many ways things can go wrong during your speech, and you have little control over it. Prepare your mind for whatever mistake you may make, and be ready to recover. Again, re-read the tips I have shared above so you won’t be super stressed and you can handle the situation better.
4. Practice your adlibs
I know adlibs aren’t supposed to be rehearsed, but it is actually suggested that you do practice them. Observe your audience before you start your speech while you still weren’t introduced. Think of the adlibs you can make and practice them on your mind.
Making mistakes during a speech is not at all that bad— that is, if you were able to recover from it unscathed. I hope that through the tips I shared above, you have learned how to deal with your mistakes with grace.
If a certain technique did not work for you, feel free to apply the others next time. But of course, we’re all hoping there’s no more next time!
For more resources to develop your speaking skills while you are in the comforts of your own home, please check the articles Online Resources for Public Speaking and Where Can I Learn Public Speaking. If you would like to leverage the best presentation software for your next big speaking engagement, please read the article 'Best Presentation Technology tools'.