Still Beating Yourself Up Over Mistakes?

Not too long ago, I decided to join a speaking club. It is called Toastmasters. You may have heard of it. If you haven’t, you either don’t really care about public speaking, or you are pretty young, because Toastmasters has been around since 1924, and it’s not something new or trendy. That’s right… it was started 92 years ago!

It doesn’t surprise me that most people have never heard of it. You would more likely hear about it in the business, sales, or marketing world, or in academic settings. It’s along the same lines as courses like Dale Carnegie, Zig Ziglar, or Les Brown, and it is designed to teach you good speaking and leadership skills.

Now, you may be asking yourself, ARE YOU CRAZY??? WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO JOIN A SPEAKING CLUB?? Isn’t public speaking one of the scariest things you can do? Well, yes and no. At first it is really scary, yes, especially for people who are naturally quiet, shy, introverted, have a social phobia, or are terrified of the thought of speaking in front of an audience.

For many people (including myself), their first reaction is something like this:

And they immediately think “Public speaking is for people who are good at public speaking! I could NEVER do that. I am not talented at that sort of thing, and I could never be good at it!”

First of all, let’s get a couple of things straight…

  1. Yes, fear of public speaking is very real. According to The Washington Post, Psychology Today, and TMVision, public speaking is the #1 fear in America, and #2 is DEATH! Wow, what does that say about us?
  2. And, get ready for this little nugget…good public speakers are NOT BORN. They are TRAINED!

Once you wrap your head around that, you will find that it is possible to be trained to be a very good public speaker, even if you are a quiet, shy, reserved, introverted (whatever you want to call it), or just plain scared shitless of speaking in front of an audience!

How do I know this? Because I am one of those guys. I was never good at public speaking, and one of the most terrified people ever to say anything to an audience. But I have been trained to be a public speaker. And if someone like me can do it, so can you.

If you think there is no way in hell that you can be trained be a public speaker, you are WRONG. DEAD WRONG. You not only can be trained to be a public speaker, but you can be trained to be a great public speaker! A confident, awesome, incredibly dynamic public speaker!

Now, here’s the part about why I even mentioned this topic.

I have been in my speaking club for a while now, and have given a lot of speeches. Some of them went well, and some of them not so well, especially the first ones. But I am making progress. Turns out, I am pretty damn good at it. But I had to work at getting better… a lot.

I just gave a speech last night which I felt didn’t go well at all. The topic and type were not important. What is important is that I did all the usual things I was supposed to. I wrote it from the heart about a topic that I felt passionate about, rehearsed it, and went over it again and again in my mind until I had it down. I was going to nail it!

Then I went up on the stage to give the delivery of a lifetime. I started out slow, and kind of stumbled over my words. Then I started to think about the second part and… I went blank! I could not remember how to transition from the first paragraph to the second paragraph, and I froze! I had a stupid note card in my hand and looked down at it. That didn’t help either. So I stumbled, and stumbled some more, and the flow was broken. I felt horrible!

I struggled the rest of the way through, and finally made it to the end, but I was already defeated in my mind. Here I was making such good progress in other speeches, and I crumbled under the pressure! I felt like I let myself and my audience down! The rest of the night after I left the club meeting, and when I got home, I played the mistakes over and over again in my head!

Does this sound familiar? Have you ever had an experience like this, maybe while playing sports and missing an important shot or goal, or playing a piece of music and forgetting a part? Why do we do that to ourselves? Why do we beat ourselves up inside?

It’s because we care about how we perform! It means something to us. It’s because relatively small or moderate failures are often perceived as monumental failures in our head, if we set ourselves up too much. It may be perceived as something entirely different from other people. It just seems incredibly magnified to us because we are in the hot seat. Hence the real reason why fear of public speaking is so intense!

But sooner or later, I just had to tell myself, it’s no big deal. Time will pass, and I will forget about it. But the best part about the experience (if I am smart and mature) is that I can learn from it!

I can choose to let it defeat me, or I can use it as a learning experience and move on. Yes, it was a painful experience, extremely embarrassing and painful. But sometimes, painful experiences are the best lessons. I can definitely say I will never forget it. I don’t want to forget about it entirely, just the part about feeling bad. If I am smart, I will use this as a valuable learning tool. And who knows, I may even use it in one of my next speeches.

To put things into perspective, I want to share another experience that happened to someone else. I have a friend who owns and runs a piano instruction business. He is very successful and has been in business for a long time, over 25 years. He is also an amazing piano player. He has recorded 2 albums, and has played professionally at Carnegie Hall in New York City several times. But the way, you have to be crazy talented to be able to play there!

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He told me a story once about how he was playing at a recital when he was about 12, and he was in front of a large audience. His mind went completely blank and he forgot a piece of his performance. OUCH! Now that must have hurt like a son of a bitch! Imagine how that affected him. But he told me that he never forgot it, and it even motivated him to train harder. Look at how his hard work paid off. I love that story!

If you have a story about how you had a painful or embarrassing mistake in front of an audience or group of people, I would love for you to share it in the comments section. You might just be helping someone by sharing your pain and telling what you did to overcome it. Be kind and gentle not just to others, but to yourself!

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Originally published at on July 27, 2016.