During the most recent Republican debate hosted by CNBC in Michigan, Rick Perry made a cringe-inducing gaffe:
Perry’s misstep happens to all of us. When giving a presentation, however, we must know how to handle a blooper in our speeches. Keeping several tools in our arsenal will allow us to react the correct way depending upon the type of blunder.
Tool #1: Quickly apologize… but keep going. Don’t dwell on the mistake, and don’t overapologize. In this particular case, Perry definitely needed to know the third institution, but moments of complete brain freeze do happen… even in a very public forum on national television. He needed to act quickly to correct the mistake, and he could have done what most politicians do: talk around the issue. Talking around the issue could also have given Perry time to recover and time to remember the third point (which was energy, by the way).
Tool #2: Avoid making excuses. As a presenter, there is no excuse, so don’t try to place blame on others or on external circumstances. Perry did appear unprepared, but he would have looked even worse if he’d said, “I don’t have my notes” or “I didn’t practice enough last night.” Don’t dig a bigger hole for yourself by blaming anyone or anything.
Tool #3: Use humor. When we watch Perry’s slipup, we all feel awkward and uncomfortable. The use of humor can help lighten the tension the audience is feeling. The humor is always best when it is self-depreciating, and it also shows the speaker’s insight into his or her mistakes. Humor can show a human touch, and it can help increase your ethos, which just took a beating due to that gaffe. Note that I say “can.” Use humor wisely.
Tool #4: Be honest. Audiences value honesty… Being a leader and a public speaker requires you to possess and to show that you possess integrity and truthfulness. Admitting your mistake honestly is important to your audience, but it also adds to your character and credibility as a presenter. Your added ethos in being truthful may help you on your way to regaining your favor with the audience.
Tool #5: Make it up to them. Explain to your audience that you will get back with them as soon as you recover from your momentary brain freeze. It is important that you honor your commitment to your audience and actually get that missing information to them as soon as possible.
For more information, please read 5 Ways to Correct Communication Mistakes.
What tools can you think of to help a speaker recover from a serious misstep in his or her presentation? What, if anything, could Rick Perry have done to make up for his mistake?