How to Recover from an Onstage Gaffe

It happens to all of us at one time or another: an onstage gaffe. It happens to presidents, opera singers, TED talkers, stand-up comics, and ballerinas, and it will happen to you at some point, too. Maybe you stumble over your words, drop your papers, fumble with the technology, or get your facts confused. Whatever the specifics, making a mistake onstage can take you out of the moment and make it difficult to focus on your speech. Here are some ways to recover:

Remember: The Audience Can Relate

Every single member of your audience has embarrassed himself or herself at one time or another. Some of them have probably done so quite frequently, maybe even that very day. Your audience understands that no one is perfect, and that mistakes and accidents happen from time to time. They are there to engage with whatever experience you’re offering, not to spend time judging your personal quirks. If you can stay in the moment and connected with your audience, they will think no worse of you for a small gaffe.

Use Humor to Defuse the Situation

In most cases, humor is very effective at diffusing the tension and embarrassment that can arise after an onstage gaffe. When you don’t acknowledge the gaffe, it can stick out even more in the minds of the audience. On the other hand, making a joke at your own expense can help you laugh with the audience and give you a moment to gather your thoughts, allowing you to transition smoothly back into the speech.

Keep Your Body Language and Voice Confident

Depending on your fortitude, you may feel like crawling into a hole and hiding after making an onstage gaffe. It is important, however, to prevent a gaffe from affecting your confidence and composure. If you can maintain an assertive voice and open, confident body language after the gaffe, the audience sees you’re still in control of the situation. Even if you don’t feel confident, faking it until you make it is a tried and true strategy for public speaking (and many other aspects of life).

Move On After Acknowledging the Mistake

Once you have acknowledged the mistake and gathered your thoughts (perhaps taking a sip of water to compose yourself), it is time to move on from the gaffe. Dwelling on the gaffe only makes it become bigger, potentially turning a tiny event into something that sticks out more than it would have otherwise. Remember, you are onstage to get a message across, and you can do so even after making a mistake. Move on from the gaffe as soon as it is appropriate to do so, and avoid letting it color the rest of the presentation.

Have you ever had an embarrassing onstage gaffe? Share in the comments!

This post was originally published on the One Smooth Stone blog on June 23, 2015. For a complimentary 30-minute consultation on how to build your brand and inspire an audience through events and communications, please contact Brian Duffy by calling 630.427.4235 or by emailing


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