How to Recover from Messing Up in Public

When we are courageous enough to put ourselves out there in public, we risk making a mistake or two, and feeling stupid. We’ve all had performances we’ve felt have gone badly, and some we feel have gone disastrously wrong. This can make us feel like we never want to perform again, or at least not until we’re a good deal better, have learned the words, or have nailed our technique etc.

So how do we deal with Messing up in Public? How do we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves down?

This blog looks at what to do after a disastrous performance, how to get your confidence back and put yourself out there again.

It’s not easy, but there’s a way to make it a lot easier.


Hi, I’m Hattie Voelcker and what I want to talk to you about today is what to do after a disastrous performance. We all know the ones, the ones where you come off the stage or you sit down and whether it was a full-blown play or opera or just a presentation to a group of people, you want the world to swallow you up. You’re so embarrassed, you feel so humiliated that you want to run and hide. How do we recover from those performances? How do we get ourselves to a position where we’re willing to stand up and put ourselves out there again? Because for so many of us, putting ourselves out there is a necessary part of our work. Whether that’s because you’re professional performers or it’s part of your necessary marketing for your business. Standing up and saying who you are and what you do is necessary to put yourself out there.

Now the answer is counter-intuitive because, as I said, the knee-jerk reaction is to respond in fight flight or freeze. We want to forget the whole thing, we want to run away and hide. We may lash out and blame somebody else for the fact that we did so badly, whether it’s the accompanist, or the person that looked at us strangely, or the guy that went before us and messed up and threw us off our game.

It may be that you’re somebody that’s really good at dusting yourself down and getting up and put yourself out there again but somehow still feeling less comfortable. Although you keep that stiff upper lip, you’re not going out there with comfort. You haven’t dealt with those emotions so it may be that actually dusting yourself down and just putting yourself out there again isn’t always the best solution. It may be part of a solution but not the whole solution.

So, what am I going to tell you today? Well as usual, today is a 3-step process and 3 steps because I think it goes back to my barrister days where a 3-point argument was often the most persuasive.

This 3-step process is:

Step 1, acknowledge how you’re truly feeling. Acknowledge the embarrassment, if that’s what you’re feeling, the shame that perhaps you’re feeling really stupid, perhaps you think everyone’s judging you and thinking how stupid you are and who the hell does she thinks she is for putting herself out there? What the hell does he think he’s got to say about this subject. So, acknowledge that feeling, acknowledge the feeling that you never want to do it again if that’s how you feel. Because it’s important for us to acknowledge where we’re at. So that’s Step 1.

Step 2 is to acknowledge that those emotions are real. No matter how you feel intellectually about the reason for those emotions, those emotions are real. You feel them, they feel strong and you are genuinely hurt by what’s happened. It could be you genuinely feel stupid whatever your intellect says about that feeling. Because if you can do this before you start telling yourself that you’re stupid for thinking of it, or telling yourself to pull yourself together and pull your socks up, or before you blame other people, you can acknowledge that this is completely understandable.

In fact, every performer has felt this way at one stage or another. Every performer has felt stupid or embarrassed when they put themselves out there and they, in their minds, have messed up.

Finally, in Step 3 you’re then free to take the best step, the best next step forward for you. The wisest choice for you. And you can do that then not from a position of fight, flight, freeze; not from that defensive position but from a state where you are making a wise choice on the basis of what is best for you.

If we do Step 3 without Step 1 or 2, we can still feel too raw to make a wise choice. We can still be in that fight flight freeze mode or it can be triggered every time we think about the situation. We can trigger ourselves back into being in fight flight or freeze and this can show up in the desire to blame somebody else for what’s gone wrong, the desire to run away and hide and never do it again never put ourselves out there again. Or in paralysis where we simply don’t know what to do next. So, we need Step 1 and 2 in order for Step 3 to be a wise step forward.

Let’s take a look at Step 1 in detail. Step one I would call “Name It to Tame It” and that’s something that Dan Siegel, the psychiatrist, talks about because when we go into fight flight freeze, when we go into that defensive mode, that’s our limbic system. That it’s the oldest part of our brain after the brain-stem and it’s a reactive process. We feel like we’re under attack and essentially, we flip our lid. So, this is when your prefrontal cortex disengages. When something bad happens, shameful happens, then we flip our lid and the pre-frontal cortex disengages and we’re left with just our brain stem and our limbic system in control, and this then starts driving what we do next.

The difficulty with this is there’s no conscious processing here. The limbic system can’t truly assess the level of the risk. It doesn’t know the difference between the attack by a sabre-toothed tiger and falling over on stage or fluffing your words. So, when we start to actually analyse how we feel, when we start to think in detail about how we feel, what we’re doing is we’re bringing our prefrontal cortex back into play. We’re bringing the logical rational part of our brain into play and this bit can do the assessment. This can properly assess the level of the risk.

Not only that but it can also, once it’s assessed the level of the risk, calm the limbic system down by releasing drugs like dopamine and calm us out of fight flight freeze. When we’ve done a bad performance, this limbic system can react as if we are properly under attack, release the adrenaline, get us going into fight flight freeze. Once we realise this is happening and we process it we can also realise that we’re not under attack, but are feeling embarrassed and we want to stop feeling that way. We can then calm our limbic system out of doing something stupid in response to that feeling of being under attack. So that’s Step 1.

Step 2 is also important because it allows you to treat yourself as a friend. When we start to say that these emotions are real and understandable, we are treating ourselves like a friend and Brené Brown would recommend that in Step 2, you actually find a friend to talk this through. Find someone who can offer you some understanding. Because when you or someone else offers you kindness and understanding and sympathy we start to feel that the embarrassment is understandable. It’s not stupid, it’s not ridiculous, it’s not something to be fought and it’s not the end of the world.

It is something that everybody feels and as bad as it feels now, running and hiding doesn’t make it feel any better, the feeling will stay with us. We’re just hiding, attempting (poorly generally), to hide from it. Blaming someone else doesn’t stop us feeling bad either, it perhaps even starts us feeling angry, but it definitely doesn’t stop us feeling bad. And paralysis literally gets us nowhere!

So, Step 2, this being kind to yourself again enables us to step away from the defensive, these knee-jerk bad reactions that we can have.

Step 3 then becomes available to us. Choosing the next and wisest step forward because we’ll be choosing it because it’s the wiser step forward and not as a knee-jerk reaction. We will be responding wisely and so then this step can be a step towards making your life better. It can be a step towards doing things better next time, and the next time becomes a possibility. You can start to take it towards taking a step to achieving what you really want.

Step 1: “Name It to Tame It”

Step 2: Treat yourself with kindness, understanding and sympathy. It’s reasonable to feel the way you do, you genuinely feel the way you do.

Step 2: Let go of the defensiveness so that you can choose the wisest best next step for you, to help you achieve what you want.

Thanks for listening. I hope to see you soon…bye-bye!!