Public Speaking Mistakes Happen to Everyone

Tell me if this rings a bell: You’re going along, giving a great speech or presentation, when all of a sudden you draw a complete blank. Your train of thought has derailed. It’s about to crash and burn and take your presentation with it.

You look to the audience nervously, then you fidget and shuffle through your notes. You’re desperate for something, anything, to jog your memory and get you back on track. How can this be happening? You practiced. You know the material inside and out. Then suddenly a word or phrase in your notes catches your eye and you breathe a heavy sigh of relief as you pick up and keep going. But now you’re mortified. Everyone knows you messed up and it’s all they’re going to remember of your presentation, right?


Making Mistakes in Public: It’s Okay

It doesn’t matter how often you give presentations or for how many years you’ve been giving them, you’re going to a make a mistake sooner or later. And sometimes it won’t even be your fault: Technology can malfunction, equipment can break. You have to accept that mistakes are a part of life, and they’re certainly a part of public speaking. And believe it or not, making a mistake every once in a while is a good thing because it teaches you how to handle those mistakes with confidence and grace.

Public speaking is an incredibly valuable skill to learn, but if you’re just getting started at it, the mere thought of making a mistake can send you into a panic. Is it really possible to survive a blunder or two and not ruin the entire presentation?

Presentation Skills Take Practice

Once again I’m going to emphasize the importance of practising. Except this time, it’s not just the presentation I’m going to say you need to practice, but the mistakes you make, too. That’s right, I said practice your mistakes.

No, that doesn’t mean you should intentionally make mistakes while you practice, but you’re probably going to make a lot of them until you’ve worked all the bugs out. And I want you to practice correcting yourself, regaining your composure, and moving on. Don’t stop because you made a mistake—because that’s not an option during your time on stage. You have to keep going. If you stop at every mistake, you’ll succeed at just one thing: drawing attention to the mistake and away from the real message.

No matter what, keep talking. Sometimes you’ll mispronounce a word; sometimes you’ll use the wrong word; sometimes you’ll get tongue twisted. Maybe your Powerpoint presentation will fail or you’ll lose your train of thought. Whatever it is, be ready with a good-natured joke and move on. Dwelling on a mistake serves no purpose other than breaking your confidence and allowing it to overshadow your presentation. And let’s face it: If you tripped over one or two words in your 15-minute presentation, I’d say there’s more to celebrate than grieve.

Public Speaking Isn’t Perfect

At Effective Presentations, we can’t guarantee you’ll never make a mistake during a presentation, but we can guarantee we’ll equip you with the skills you need to handle a slip-up.  It’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake. (The end of the world would have come for us a long time ago if it was!) A confident speaker can shrug off a mistake and keep moving forward. The mistake will long be forgotten by your audience and you’ll look like a total pro.

How do you recover from a public speaking blooper? Tell us about it in the Comments section. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ where we are always posting great tips and advice to improve your presentation skills.


  1. Excellent blog. We focus too much on being ‘perfect’ when in reality, that’s an impossible goal.

  2. Always looking for new tips- thank you!

  3. How true it is…Not if but when

  4. Great read, always nice to know your not alone…

  5. Jim Crawell says:

    Everyone makes mistakes its just how you recover from them that matters. Great article!

  6. Love this advice. Part of my problem is that I don’t always know I’m making a public speaking blooper until after the fact. For example if my body language is being awkward, I won’t know until someone tells me later, or I see a video. So I like the idea of practicing to iron out those issues.

  7. Alyssa Simpson says:

    The key is not to panic and just roll with whatever happens

  8. Wendy Wilson says:

    Basically, strive for excellence–not perfection (which is impossible anyway.) Great blog!

  9. Sam Anson says:

    Excellent points made here. Thanks for another great article.

  10. L. Lincoln says:

    I hate messing up! (It’s good to have someone say it’s okay, though.)

  11. I crashed and burned today. This after doing really well a week before. Now I am nervous about how I will handled the next one. I floundered from the beginning and never gained my footing. I’m sure I felt worse that it was, but I promise you the audience knew.

  12. Stephanie says:

    Nothing is worse than making a mistake on stage and you completely stop apologize. It throws off my whole flow! I like the advice saying I should just keep moving forward.

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