Public Speaking Blunders: How to Do Damage Control

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship / June 11, 2013

Public Speaking Blunders

Maybe you had a bad morning, maybe you just didn’t think or maybe you have the unique gift to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. We’ve all had this happen at least once but how do you come back from it in the work place? Communication is king and however much we’d like to think that we don’t judge other people, when we are misunderstood in one way or another the fallout can be long lived. It should be as easy as rewording what you were trying to say except that, well, it isn’t.

The golden foot award goes to former BP CEO, Tony Hayward. On April 20, 2010, 11 men died in an explosion on a BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. A month later, then-CEO Tony Hayward issued an official apology and then at the end added, “There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I’d like my life back.” In that moment he became the most hated CEO in the world.

In the realm of business and marketing one of the first things we learn is that perception is reality. So what happens when you ask your new boss if she’s pregnant and she says, ‘No, why do you ask?’ In one fell swoop you’ve damaged your credibility and reputation – the cornerstone of your business relationship. Darlene Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, notes that, “In a workplace where employers must be cutting-edge, competitive, and cost-effective, employees…will likely be replaced with those who convey a more positive attitude, collaborative spirit, proactive behavior and professional demeanor.”

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SAM (Stop, Apologize, Move on)

The best way to handle when we have firmly placed our foot in our mouths is to SAM (Stop, Apologize, Move on). If you catch yourself part way, stop. If you didn’t, don’t run away and hope it’ll blow over or ignore it and keep talking, apologize immediately. Be sincere and take responsibility, don’t try to explain or make excuses. The last step is the hardest – move on. Moving on doesn’t mean you dismiss what happened, the opposite in fact. You need to clearly understand why you said what you did and how what you said was wrong and come up with strategies to make sure you don’t repeat the mistake. Rerun the conversation in your head and think of different ways you could have responded.

Read the Room

Sometimes it’s hard to know what will be taken the wrong way. For those of us with this challenge, try to ‘read the room’ and get a feel for the people who are talking and the environment you’re in. Another way to prevent a conversational blunder is to ask yourself if what you’re about to say could be broadcast on a loudspeaker? Alternatively you could ask yourself if you’d say it to your mother/father? Be careful with that last one – if you have a parent with a raunchy sense of humor, it’s not a good yardstick to be using.

Appropriate vs. Inappropriate

Some subjects are just not appropriate for the work place such as sex, politics and religion. According to David Kimmelman, Vice President of the site, “Humor becomes offensive when it’s directed at a group, like a religion or race.” Charles Purdy, author of Urban Etiquette, says, “Sex is dangerous [as a topic] because it’s so easy for a harmless conversation to devolve or for someone to feel harassed.” This doesn’t mean that you’re restricted to talking about the weather. The most useful tip I learned the hard way is to try and always keep it positive. After all, most of us spend close to half our day at work and we all want a fun, relaxed work atmosphere. So be fun and relaxed but remember you’re at work. If that’s a challenge look for an example of someone in the office who personifies this behavior and model it. For executives, blunders, especially with the media, can be avoided with some custom training workshops tailored to their specific situation. If you have committed a blunder however, these types of trainings are helpful in addition to the advice above to improve the situation moving forward.

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Susie Brown is a FastUpFront Blog contributor and business author.

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About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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