Have you observed trainers doing things like this?
Before beginning her presentation, a trainer tells the audience, “I had planned to show you this wonderful video with actors from The Office singing this song “Let’s Get Ethical,” to the tune of “Let’s Get Physical.” Unfortunately, I can’t get the DVD to work, so I can’t show it, but let me tell you, it would be really funny if you could see it.”
Yes, I actually saw a trainer do just this a few years ago. This example brings to mind the “Never complain, never explain” rule. I’ve seen this pithy saying variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Henry Ford and Katherine Hepburn. Regardless of the originator, it always struck me as a little dubious. “Never?” Isn’t that a recipe for being a jerk?
However, with a little adjustment for rhetorical excess, this saying does describe a sound principle for instructors. It’s nearly always a mistake to apologize to the audience. In the example described, the trainer was smart to try to use a training aid, but when that did not pan out, she unwisely demonstrated to the audience not just her incompetence with technology, but her poor judgment. If she had never apologized for failing to get the DVD to work, the audience would never have known of her failure. Experienced presenters understand that in many cases the audience will never know if the speaker made a mistake unless he or she draws attention to the error by apologizing.
The same principle applies to other mistakes made during your presentation, explains speech expert Richard Zeoli:
When you make a mistake, no one cares but you: Even the most accomplished public speaker will make mistakes. Yet it is important to remember that the only one who cares about any given mistake is the one doing the speaking.
People’s attention spans constantly wander. In fact, most people only absorb about 20 percent of a speaker’s message. The other 80 percent is internalized visually. This ratio is true in nearly everything: a football game, a favorite television show, and even a heart-to-heart conversation. The point is that when you make a mistake, the audience rarely even notices. The most important thing a speaker can do after making a mistake is to keep going. Don’t stop and – unless the mistake was truly earth shattering – never apologize to the audience for a minor slip. Unless they are reading the speech during your delivery, the audience won’t know if you left out a word, said the wrong name, or skipped a page.
“Never” apologize? Probably a mistake. “Almost never” apologize? Sounds about right.