Archive for September 15th, 2008

“No One Is Listening – Until You Make A Mistake!”

Monday, September 15th, 2008

As a professional speaker, I am only too well-aware of the bitter taste of my own toes. “Open mouth/insert foot” is a hazard of the trade for any of us who jabber for a living.

Case in point: Democrat Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Biden recently asked a dignitary in the audience to “stand up,” momentarily forgetting that the luminary in question is confined to a wheelchair. Some laughed at Senator Biden’s mistake. I merely offered a silent prayer of thanks that was not me who uttered that gaffe.

My verbal boo-boos over the years include citing the wrong book of the Bible for a quotation – to a group of ministers – as well as introducing featured vocalist Guy Mitchell (whose hits included Singing The Blues) as “Guy Williams” (who played Zorro for Disney when I was a kid.)

I have a lot of company. Senator Edward Kennedy stumbled over the name of a young colleague from Illinois, asking the crowd to welcome “Osama Obama.” And Depression-Era Texas Governor Miriam A. (“Ma”) Ferguson once thoroughly confused a group of journalists who wanted to know her position on bi-lingual education, by responding that her opposition was Scriptural: “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the children of Texas!”

My reaction to such moments is to want to crawl under my bed and never come out again. I always feel that my credibility is irrevocably destroyed. But George Bernard Shaw took a more benign view, saying “A life spent in making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing.”

Albert Einstein added, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Shaw and Einstein were considered to be pretty smart guys. So maybe you and I should give ourselves “permission” to be human (as in “to err is…”).

Cutting ourselves some slack can even prevent future flubs. TV’s The Apprentice”-winner Bill Rancic advises us that “Sulking about your mistakes only leads to future ones.”

Nina Coleman, editor of the Friar’s Club Bible Of Roasts And Toasts suggests that we go a step further, and act like the goofs were intentional. She says, “If there is a piece of spinach between your teeth or a scrap of toilet paper trailing from your shoe, pretend you know it’s there and you did it for effect. Works every time.”

Finally, take heart in knowing that the vast majority of our oral foul-ups fall far short of Harry Von Zell’s most famous blooper. On coast to coast radio in the 1930s, the young announcer had the honor of introducing no less than the President of the United States, Herbert Hoover. The normally unflappable Von Zell said into the nationally-connected microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen, Hoo-bert Hee-ver.”