In our last blog post, I talked about vulnerability and encouraged speakers to use their mistakes as ways to connect with the audience and overcome the pressure to be perfect. I thought it might help to follow that post up by diving further into this scary thing we call failure. The truth is, all speakers fail sometimes. We all have presentations that fall short despite our best efforts to make them great. But here’s some good news. When we explore it further, we find that failure actually drives some very productive and positive things. In fact, English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley said, “There is the greatest practical benefit in making a few failures early in life.” Let’s explore two of those benefits, learning and resilience.
When we show up often enough, as speakers are required to do, we will have moments when things don’t go exactly as we’d hoped. The audience seems bored, you keep tripping over your own words, or the technology malfunctions and throws you for a loop. While those moments can be frustrating, they can also teach us a lot or lead us to discover something we may not have learned otherwise. The following short video tells the story of a failed invention that led to an unexpected lesson.
It’s probably not news to you that failure can be a catalyst to learning, creativity, and problem solving. Rebecca Louick says, “Failure is an excellent teacher. So why not celebrate each time it happens, knowing a new opportunity has just arrived?” But let’s be honest. Celebrating when we fail isn’t easy. Our initial emotions after failure are probably more along the lines of shame, embarrassment, frustration, or anger. However, after we’ve grappled with those initial, uncomfortable emotions, we can start to ask questions about what we learned, what other solutions might be out there, or what we can change for next time. That’s when we turn a corner towards productivity.
Once we begin to view failure as a learning opportunity, we have adopted what is called a “growth mindset,” a term attributed to researcher, author, and professor Dr. Carol Dweck. Growth mindset literally changes the way our brain responds to mistakes. Take for example, a study published in Psychological Science in 2011. In this study, researchers measured brain activity and found that our “awareness of and attention to mistakes are intimately involved in growth-minded individuals’ ability to rebound from mistakes.” In other words, the more we are able to accept mistakes as opportunities to grow, the faster we are able to get back on our feet and the better we are able to perform next time.
So growth mindset helps develop resilience, and resilience is what allows us to rebound after failing. Writer Debbie Hampton says, “Resilience is not a trait that you either have or don’t have. It includes behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed. When you break it down to the physical level in your brain, resilience is a neuroplastic process.” That means our resilience gets stronger each time we fail and get back up again.
It’s human nature to make mistakes and to fail. The good news is that those same things we often view as negative can lead to positive outcomes. We just have to use our mistakes to learn and build resilience.
Ready to learn more? Check out our all-new, online presentation skills course. It won’t make you fail-proof, but it can get you pretty darn close.