Here are two things you can do to recover quickly.
I’ve had my share of communication mess-ups. As a speaker, I get plenty of opportunities to embarrass myself in front of people. I sometimes misspeak, stumble over my words (or my feet), forget to advance slides, or find some other way to say or do the wrong thing.
Once, when speaking to an audience of credit managers, I made the comment, “In our culture, ‘money’ is a dirty word.” Usually, that gets some laughs. But what had been an incredibly engaged audience suddenly got silent. No nods. No smiles. No chuckles. Just blank stares and a few furrowed brows. Oops, I thought. I can’t say that to this audience!
Another time, I asked an audience to stand up for an activity. When I advanced the slide, I realized I’d forgotten a whole section of my presentation. Doh! “Never mind,” I said. “Sit down. I messed up.” One lady was incredulous. “Are you kidding me? You made us stand for nothing?” She was teasing, but earlier in my career it would have killed me.
It doesn’t just happen in presentations. As you probably know from personal experience, any interaction can provide ample opportunities for “messing up.” In coaching sessions, staff meetings, and at networking events, I’ve forgotten people’s names, showed up over or underdressed, offered up ideas that were ridiculed… The list could go on and on. You can probably create your own list.
It’s easy to let mistakes derail you. Especially when there’s a lot riding on the interaction, you’re deeply invested in what you have to say, or your identity is on the line, even small slip-ups can feel devastating. And then comes the avalanche of thoughts and feelings that hijack your brain and make subsequent problems more likely. So how can you protect yourself?
Aim for recovery, not perfection.
Perfection cannot be your goal. You set yourself up for failure, since nothing and no one are perfect. Not to mention, no one even wants you to be perfect! “Perfect” people are creepy. Instead, make it your goal to course correct as quickly as possible and as frequently as necessary. Here are two recovery skills that will help: