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An inevitable fact of life is that mistakes happen. They are frequently unavoidable. Unfortunately, this is particularly true in performance. Not only are we more likely to make mistakes due to the pressure we heap on ourselves but those that we do make are heightened due to our increased sense of awareness and vulnerability.

Most mistakes that happen in performance go unnoticed by the audience. In my previous life as an actor, I remember one particular performance when a colleague walked off stage to ‘retrieve’ a line in the middle of a scene. When discussing the show with friends who has been in the audience, I was stunned to discover that they had not realised this moment was a ‘mistake’. My fellow actor had carried this out with such confidence and ‘panache’ that it had become part of the performance. This was a perfect example of how to react when things go wrong. He was embodying some of the following ‘top tips’ and it worked beautifully:

  1. Don’t collapse! Keep an upright, positive posture when you make a mistake. The natural instinct when feeling ashamed or embarrassed is to shrink. However, if you start to collapse physically, you will collapse mentally and you are likely to continue making mistakes. Be aware of this and imagine someone is pulling a strong from the crown of your head. This will encourage you to stand upright and confidently and will make you feel more in control of the situation.
  2. Avoid creating any ‘barriers’. As well as shrinking physically, you may find yourself putting up barriers to protect yourself. This happens instinctively as you start to feel under attack. Arms naturally cross, hands come in front of the face, etc. Not only does this give the impression that you are not in control, these positions will make you feel vulnerable and you will lose contact with the audience.
  3. Be aware of ‘fiddles’ and ‘fidgets’. These are more likely to occur when you feel vulnerable but, similarly to the barriers described above, they will increase feelings of insecurity and uncertainty.
  4. Maintain good eye contact with the audience. Again, a natural instinct when feeling embarrassed is to look away. Do the opposite. Obviously, you will not want to stare like a rabbit in the headlights! However, if you can ‘retrieve’ your next thoughts by looking at the audience as opposed to looking away, you will maintain your contact with them and stay connected.
  5. Smile. This us probably the last thing you will feel like doing but if you can achieve a genuine smile, you will instantly feel more relaxed. Try to see the funny side of it and, if that’s not possible, think of something that makes you laugh. By alleviating tension from your face, your voice will sound more resonant and authoritative.
  6. Move on! Say to yourself ‘Cancel, continue’. If you dwell on what went wrong, you will almost certainly continue to make more mistakes. If you can successfully ‘delete’ your mistake from your memory bank, the audience will either do the same or not even recognise it as a mistake.

The above are some simple but effective ways of changing your mental state and giving you the emotional resilience when things go wrong in performance. By doing this, you will have a much greater chance of moving on successfully and regaining control of the situation.

About Helen

Helen is our Aziz expert equipping senior executives with presentation and communication skills. She has worked across many different sectors and her clients include Roche Pharmaceutical, GlaxoSmithKline, London Deanery, Barclays Bank, Transport for London, National Grid, The Royal Household, Costain, Vodafone and Warner Brothers.

Following her training at Birmingham University and the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, Helen worked in many of the leading theatres throughout the country. She also spent a year working at the National Theatre. Helen’s film and TV work includes various productions for the BBC and independent film producers. She has also worked in radio and voice-over and has narrated a number of children’s audiobooks.