Presenting: What if you make a mistake?
Have you ever made a mistake while presenting? We all have, and it can be unnerving. I still remember my first mistake while giving a presentation, some 20 years or more ago.
I was presenting for the first time in my career to people several years my senior. And instead of “everything is flowing smoothly,” I said, “everything is smowing floothly.”
It was a simple, nervous mistake, but I was mortified. Of course my audience found it amusing, and we just moved on. To this day, I still coach clients who are worried about making a mistake while presenting.
To ease their concerns, I explain two important things to know if you’re worried about mistakes when presenting:
- How to reduce your chances of making a mistake.
- How to recover quickly if you do make a mistake.
Reduce your chances of making a mistake while presenting
There are three things you can do to reduce your chances of making mistakes during your speech or presentation:
- Make and use a Message Map.
- Conduct a true dry run.
Create a Message Map and use it to guide your presentation. It ensures you know your material up and down, so you say exactly what you mean. It helps you focus on what’s in it for your audience, providing a clear roadmap for creating visual aids (if you plan to use them).
Once you have your Message Map and visual aids, make time to rehearse. This is a step too many presenters skip (If you’re that busy, don’t agree to give the presentation!), and it shows. They end up stumbling through their presentation, or worse, reading each slide word for word. This results in an unengaged audience and a low likelihood of getting your message heard. And the number one rule of presenting is respecting your audience.
When you rehearse, the trick is to practice enough that you’re comfortable speaking without reading, but not so much that you sound over-rehearsed. Finding the right balance helps you sound confident and natural.
Even though you’ve rehearsed, conducting a dry run is critical. The dry run is when you get to see the room you’ll be presenting in, test the audio-visual equipment, and ensure everything is set up the way you want. Skipping the dry run can result in mistakes if you’re thrown off by equipment not working, noises you weren’t expecting, or other conditions that could have been solved by doing a dry run.
Recover quickly if you make a mistake while presenting
Even with the best preparation, mistakes can and do happen. In fact, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma is famous for saying, “I will make a mistake on stage. And you know what? I welcome that first mistake. Because then I can shrug it off and keep smiling. Then I can get on with the performance and turn off that part of the mind that judges everything. I’m not thinking or worrying anymore.”
Yo-Yo Ma’s audience isn’t worried about his mistakes, and neither is yours. We are all human. In fact, your audience members most likely have sympathy for you.
Mistakes can vary in gravity, from mispronouncing a word to giving an incorrect statement. In either case, simply correct yourself and quickly move on. Don’t draw further attention to it, as you want your audience to remember your message, not that you made a mistake.
Presenting is a great way to get your story heard, yet many presenters worry about making a mistake while presenting. Adequate preparation and recovering quickly from any mistakes can help ensure a successful presentation.
For assistance with presenting or other communications and marketing needs, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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