How To Recover From A Speaking Mistake

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is under enormous political pressure at the moment.

He’s made a number of mistakes including poor political judgement. He calls them “Captain’s Calls”, such as the Paid Parental Scheme and Restoration of Knighthoods.

The polls are down, a shock result in Queensland from a State election and constant backflips are hurting his leadership.

There are now calls for a leadership spill.

An economist recently quipped “good policy is bad politics”.

A recent National Press Club speech was a very public opportunity for Abbott to rebound and recover.

His main premise in the speech was that he would stand and fight on as leader despite rumblings of a challenge.

Some key quotes included:

"It's the people that hire and, frankly, it's the people who should fire."

This is a great example of rhyming and connection with the audience.

"Leadership is about making the right decisions for our country's future. It isn't a popularity contest."

Again good use of direct argument.

In reviewing this speech and his leadership style, it prompted me to analyse how you can recover if you make a mistake during a speech.

I’ve come up with the MOVE ON acronym to illustrate key principles to help you overcome any mistakes that do occur in a speech.

This mistakes may later manifest themselves in a residual fear of public speaking or the perception of you being a poor leader.

Message Accuracy

If your mistake is factually incorrect, such as you’ve left a zero off a number or made some other factual error in your content, correct it quickly and confidently.

A quick apology or an explanation is a good rebound.

Don’t act as if it didn’t happen because you will lose credibility with your audience. They then may not believe anything else you say.

This transparency is especially important in the mobile age when anyone can Google for the correct information while you are speaking.

Own It and Be Human

Admit your mistake but don’t draw attention to it.
Acknowledge it and move on because you shouldn’t give it more oxygen than it deserves.

Most mistakes are just small glitches, and you can use humour to get through these. Laugh at yourself and be self-deprecating so the audience likes you more.

I recently heard a speaker say in response to an annoying and loud audio feedback sound caused by a microphone being too close to a speaker “does that mean I'm talking too long?.”

That comment made everyone laugh and made her appear more authentic, human and credible.

Visualise Success

Don’t dwell on the negatives and let that hold you back. Do not obsess over it.

Some strategies to regain confidence are:
Paraphrase your previous content
Call for time out
Ask your audience a question — maybe even a rhetorical one?
Catch your breath.
Ask the audience to brainstorm with a partner
Take a drink of water.

All these will help you stay connected to the audience while you recover.


Don’t let making a mistake become an excuse for not getting up and giving another speech.

Evaluate and learn from your mistakes.

Wait until after 48 hours before evaluation because in this time you will be in a better space emotionally.

It will give you greater perspective.

A speech coach can be a great help and provide an independent perspective.

Onwards and Upwards

Review your overall speaking premise, key points and take away messages.

Remember, repetition is your friend.

It is a good transition technique and allows you to return to the overall importance of your message.

Never Stop Learning

All the great speakers have made mistakes. They have learnt and gone on to become even better speakers.

So in summary, if you make a mistake in a speech and want to recover, remember to MOVE ON.

Please consider my next public speaking seminar.
Tuesday February 10th 2015, HLB Mann Judd, L4, 130 Stirling Street, Perth Powerful and Persuasive Speechwriting
Numbers limited so book here.

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