In the video below, I share a cringe-worthy story about a mistake I made in front of a very important audience and how I recovered. I hope it helps you see how you can survive – and still pull off a very successful talk – even if you make a mistake too.
In case you prefer to read, here is a written version of the video content, with some modifications for lovelier reading.
I am standing in the middle of a U-shaped room full of leaders in a technology company. I've been brought in by the CEO of this company to train all the leaders in her company in phases. In this particular phase, the CEO happens to be a part of the training.
The CEO is sitting in a seat right in front of me, I'm sharing this new example that I've just recently pulled together. I read a version of it in a book and thought it was perfect for the training to help them understand one of the new concepts I was teaching. As I began sharing the example, getting deeper and deeper into details, I'm getting lost in a kind of circular explanation. I'm standing there in front of the room, smack dab in front of the CEO, falling deeper and deeper into… well, nonsense.
I stop myself and I look up. The CEO is staring at me expectantly, as is everyone else in the room. I realize that I'm just not going to be able to talk my way out of this.
I take a deep breath and say, “You know what? I obviously I don't understand this example well enough to use it. It's a brand new example. It made a lot of sense when I read it and applied it in my mind, but it's not working. So let me use a different one.”
And I used a different example – one that I knew well and had worked many times before – and the concept got explained. I think we all sighed a collective huge sigh of relief at that point. The CEO was very kind – as was everyone in the room. She nodded her head, kind of laughed with me, and we carried on with a very successful training
That I carried on and we recovered doesn't mean I wasn't uncomfortable when it all went down. I was terribly uncomfortable. But here's the important thing to remember as speakers:
Our job is not to be perfect. Our job is to be of service – to deliver on the promise we made with the title and description of our presentation.
The beautiful truth is, this whole speaking thing is not about us. It's about them and how we can serve them.
If I just made a mistake, I serve them most powerfully by saying, “Oh, sorry about that. I made a mistake. Let me fix it so that we can move on and I can serve you the way I promised.”
So that's what you do if you make a mistake on stage.
And in case you're wondering, I did get hired by that CEO again 🙂