• open panel

Handling Flub-Ups Like a Pro

Handling Mistakes


By Claudia Brogan


Dropping a microphone, forgetting the next sentence in your speech, noticing mid-delivery that the power point slide has a spelling mistake.
Each of these flubs— and many more—populate the dreams of those who do public speaking.



Lately, I have been observing speakers to watch how they handle the unexpected. I have learned a lot from watching pros handle mistakes with grace. In other situations, I have sighed with empathy when other speakers have become flustered after saying a word incorrectly or dropping a prop or the powerpoint remote control device.
Whether it’s good news or bad news, the simple truth is that we learn to handle mistakes by facing them a number of times. Practice, in this case, at least helps us become better speakers.



Alan Hoffler offers a very useful model for handling mistakes or surprises.  Hoffler makes the point that it’s a good idea for us to be ready, ahead of time, for calmly moving through surprises when doing public speaking: “Fix it, feature it, or forget it.” Frankly, this pithy approach (in a useful, memorable trio of tips) can help the speaker remain calm and unruffled. Picture your last awkward situation that you managed when public speaking, and apply this three-point plan to your own experience.
How public or blatant or noticeable was the mistake? If you mis-pronounced a word, was it a key word and emphasized in your speech, or was it folded within a sentence and barely noticed?
Fix it, feature it, or forget it. To fix it, the speaker can begin the sentence again and smoothly correct the pronunciation of the flubbed word. To feature it, one can point out with humor and humility, the word that was just bumbled and offer a comment of a rhyme or preferable word. Or to forget it, one can simply move on to the next point and shrug off the error.
Any of these three actions might be suitable in different situations. Pens get dropped, cell phones go off in the audience, trains blow their horns as they travel nearby, or a stranger can poke their head in the door, lost and looking for the meeting. An endless list of possibilities exists for what surprises can happen. The key is for the speaker to remain calm, to stay focused and to move ahead. Learning from Hoffler in each of these examples, we can “fix it, feature it, or forget it.”



For instance, one meeting space that is used by an advanced Toastmasters Club in Atlanta has a unique and unresolvable situation which occurs: in an otherwise excellent meeting space, there is an overhead HVAC fan which loudly turns on with a rattling whoosh! at irregular intervals. Unpredictable and surprisingly loud, this feature of the room is one of the rare flaws of this free, accessible, well-proportioned room. Once the club decided to continue to use this meeting space, the shared agreement formed among the seasoned speakers to be prepared for this loud sound, and to adapt as best they can when presenting. Even when the loud overhead noise is a jolt for members and for guests, the experienced speaker will proceed as smoothly as possible so that the interruption does not overtake the presentation.



It may be, most importantly, a mental state that can help us respond calmly to surprises or flub-ups. One excellent blog piece that explains this quite well is written by Chris Witt: “What to do when things go wrong.”
One of my very favorite elements of Witt’s advice for speakers is: “Check your attitude. Perfectionism is the undoing of many speakers. It’s based on the illusion that if we work hard enough, we can avoid making mistakes, losing control, or looking foolish.”
Mr. Witt reminds us that, as humans, we are subject to errors or mis-spellings. The tighter that we are about expectations for our own speech delivery, the more alarmed we will be if something goes wrong or something gets forgotten.  In a literal sense and in a figurative sense, the more that we can “keep our knees bent” and respond flexibly, the more natural and relatable we will be with our audience members. Rather than stiffly and stuffily becoming flustered when a word comes out wrong, a speaker will roll right along—using any of the three actions listed above—and move toward completing the speech with grace.
Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you. Contact Claudia via email at claudiabrogan @ gmail.com, through LinkedIn or by phone at 404-849-5182.
Coach Joe Sasso
Coach Joe Sasso

Thank You KELLY, this is a very important topic to address. Your advice is timely and very useful when making a presentation to upper management or speaking before an audience of my peers.