Now, you've done it. You goofed--blew it--put your foot in your mouth--your lips spoke before your brain kicked into gear. We've all done it. Authors and speakers seem to do it the most. Say something that they ordinarily wouldn't have said. Now, it's too late. It's been said--or hinted at--or mentioned at the wrong time, inappropriate time, in the heat of the moment and you can't take it back. What's an author to do?
Don't panic. Think things through. Carry a Damage Control kit wherever you go. What does the kit consist of? Written words and phrases of wisdom.
1. Remain cool, calm and collective. This is not the time to lose your temper or worse, argue. Remember the adage your boss at the Five and Dime told you? "The customer is always right." This applies to an author as well. No matter what comes out of your mouth, whether intentional or not, your audience is always right. No matter that five out of one hundred fifty-two listeners heard you said one thing and that another fifty listeners understood it to mean something entirely different. The point taken is that you slipped. You've got to do act before it's blown out of proportion.
2. Apologize. Whether you're right and the audience is wrong, it doesn't matter. You've been invited as a guest to come into their "living room," store, school, church, college, or library. The point is you've been invited. If you been paid for your services, it makes it a lot harder to apologize, but do it. Do it graciously. Accept the blame and then move forward.
3. No fighting allowed. The point is that the audience are your guests and that bookstore's guest are also possible paying customers. or school's guests might have children who could become possible future students, or library's guests and might become possible sponsors in 'Friends of the Library.'
As authors we can't risk 'biting the hand that feeds us." In other words, when authors go out and speak at functions, we're also marketing and promoting ourselves, our books, and future authors coming into this establishment and further marketing and promoting themselves, their books and future authors.
Admit that you made a mistake. More importantly, tell your prospective host that you make up for it by offering an additional something. This tells your host you're serious and
won't repeat this offense ever again.
When I go on speaking engagements, radio and/or television interviews or address a class at school, I get nervous. So nervous that my lips take on a life of their own. If I don't plan what I'm going to say, all sorts of strange words and ideas flap past my lips before I know what I'm saying. One way to prevent this is to come prepared with a 3 by 5 cards with key words or phrases jotted down. Glance down at the card to remind yourself what your next pitch sentence is and follow that train of thought. Remember when you go to the grocery store, most people bring a list with them so they'll buy only what's on the list. They don't impulsive shop. The same idea applies to the author. Keep that 3 by 5 cards in your hand. It keeps you on a focused path. It prevents you from saying things that don't need to be said or added to your present speech. Using profanity in front of elementary students or seniors. Stretching the truth to fit your facts. Comparing your book to a well-known author and falling short. Distorting facts and stats.
4. Piracy and Copyright Infringement. Authors are often carried away by the sound of their words and small successes. If not careful, they'll claim something that belongs to another author or worse, make a false claim.
When that happens, stop speaking. Wipe the silly grin off your face. Take a sip of water. Explain what you really meant. Don't try and fool the audience. The audience are people who like to ready-- kindle, e-books or audio books. Some may even possess a partial or a full photographic mind. Well known passages and words are well-known. Remember Shakespere? When offering explanations, keep it simple. Don't lie. Don't invent. Don't substitute. Give the full context of that phrase or famous saying to that well known author. Make sure the audience understands that you didn't do it on purpose or to test them to see if they're really listening or not.
Mid teens and teenagers are quick to point out your mistakes. Don't make it worse with excuses. Passion. 'Fifteen minutes of fame' syndrome. Be careful when using a quote, facts, or figures that not yours. Make sure you reference the right person. Copyright issues and piracy have surfaced on the Internet. Song writers and celebrity authors don't like their words stolen from them.
5. Question and Feedback Handling. During an interview or speaking engagement, an audience is often asked if 'there's any questions' or 'feedback' they want to share or add.' Authors take note. The rules of the game have shifted. Questions might or might not relate to what was said or implied. Be prepared to answer discretely. For example, offer to email that person or a phone number to call them with the additional information.
Don't let them distract you from what is planned in your presentation. Remember the adage, once words are spoken in anger, they can't be taken back. The author has compromised themselves. Audiences look at the author with different attitudes. What they think will affect the outcome the author. Audience participation does become part of author promotion and word-of-mouth approval rating.
6. Voice Language. Make sure you control your voice when speaking to the audience. Adjust it accordingly to the age, gender and intelligence of that audience. An author's voice is an emotional appeal to prospective audience's ears. Adjust your tone to match the mood of your audience. Keep your feelings under control. Water sliding off a duck's back is worth remembering.
The point is that an author's Damage Control kit should be used sparingly. Understand how to make a presentation before you do one. Practice in front of a 'family' audience and practice taking questions from them and handling misstatements that you might make. Practice handling insults, racial slurs and outright profanity. Once the author makes a slip, the audience considers it open season and will go after you.
The author must learn how to turn around a mistake without antagonizing their prospective audience and host. Faux-pas happen. Words are said that shouldn't have been said, but it happens. When it happens, be prepared as an author to make sure that you deal with it immediately and don't make the situation worse.
Using poetic license is no longer enough to excuse what might come out of your mouth or written by hand or typed by a computer. The author must learn how to think and speak on their feet while modulating their voice tones. In that way, an author's Damage Control Kit becomes part of a routine, not a consequence of speaking.