His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready to drop bombs,
But he keeps on forgetting what he wrote down,
The whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out
He’s choking how, everybody’s joking now
The clock’s run out, time’s up, over, blaow!
– Eminem, “Lose Yourself”
Its show time and you’ve prepared your speech. You know what to say and how to say it. But then, something happens…
And you choke.
Relax, it happens to anyone who has spoken in public before.
But what do we do to recover? How do we keep on going, despite messing it up?
Jerry Seinfeld once joked that for most people, the fear of public speaking ranks higher than the fear of death: “This means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Practising it in front of the mirror is easy. But when there are eyes on you, and when you are at the very centre of the audience’s attention, it can make things remarkably harder.
Okay, so you blanked out, forgotten something or mumbled really badly. You screwed up and the audience is waiting for you to continue on. Your internal dialogue is going nuts and you start to panic – This is what to do:
1. Understand that the audience is on your side. They WANT you to succeed. They are rooting for you! They want you to deliver your content as best as you can. They don’t want you to fail, they want to see you kill it – so take a breath, and relax – you’ve got this.
2. Just back up. Summarise the points you had just finished making. You will find your groove again and be able to continue on. Repeating your previous points will also help to get the information across to your audience better.
3. Check your notes. It is smart to have an outline of what you are discussing in front of you if you get lost on a tangent. Even if it is on a business card in your pocket, having it there will recalibrate where you were going and will allow you to continue onwards.
4. Say, “I got so caught up in what I was saying that I lost my place. Where was I?” Asking your audience for help shows audience participation, and you can tell who was actually listening. Or you can joke around with it and say “I was just testing to see who was listening and not falling asleep!” Connect with them, ask “Has anyone else ever just gone completely blank?” The heads will nod, they will feel your pain, you can all giggle about it and then you can move on.
The ultimate secret to continuing on after you screw up is to just keep on going. Pretend it didn’t happen and just keep moving forwards with new information – they probably didn’t even realise you messed up!
You’re being vulnerable, and that alone is admirable. Remember, you have so much to share and so much value to give, so chill out, relax and keep killing it!