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jamesjoyce106797James Joyce., Xplore Inc, 2015.

I’ve been teaching this lesson to performers for about a decade now. It started off as a small section in my talk on Seven Hidden Secrets of Booking More Gigs with Your Website (aka The Good, The Bad and The Ugly).

Now it’s grown into a standard practice for myself and most of my clients.

Let me ask you a question…

Which did you learn more from: the engagement where everything went perfectly or the one where the audience was exhausted and/or drunk, the mic kept cutting out and the host lost your intro card and ad-libbed something like “now this guy wants to tell us how to be better?”

Sure, we all live for those Great Performances. That’s one of the reasons we’re doing this, isn’t it?

But we learn from the train wrecks.

So why not use these bad experiences to our advantage?

Here are three ways you can actually use them to avoid future disasters, speak more dramatically, and build your credibility.

“That will never happen again.”

That’s a phrase given to me by one of my mentors almost 20 years ago and I have lived by it ever since. It’s also the easiest of these lessons to wrap your head around.

The only real failure is to not learn the lesson!

Years ago I started keeping a “Lessons Learned” Journal. Whenever things go wonky, I add an entry as follows:

  1. What was the “unfortunate” outcome?
  2. What were the factors that might have contributed to the outcome? (be honest!)
  3. Of those factors, which ones were you in control of?
  4. Are there any that you could have been in control of (at least partially)?
  5. What practical thing(s) will you do from now on to ensure that this will never happen again?

A good show / talk / speaker has texture

I have seen enough “one note”speakers to last me a lifetime. They’re positive. They’re excited! Life will be all rose gardens and fluffy bunnies, if you just listen to them!


If Reality TV has taught us one thing, it’s that we want to be reminded that everyone else has problems, just like we do (though, hopefully not that over-the-top).

A great talk has drama. Dramatic structure requires conflict (by definition). In many cases, this conflict comes from a character flaw.

So talk about your failures. Let the audience understand that you make mistakes, just like them. The reason they should listen to you is that you’ve learned lessons that might keep them from making the same mistakes.

The Big Secret: post your horror stories on your blog

I’ll go into a lot more detail on optimizing your blog is a future post because I think this is one of the most under-utilized tool in your marketing toolkit. But since I’m on the topic of mistakes, I’ll just focus on that for now.

Credibility is a key ingredient for getting hired. How can the client be sure that you’re going to produce great results?

Let’s be honest: the people booking you are more concerned about not looking bad for hiring you than they are about what you’re going to say.

How do you prove to them that they have nothing to worry about?

Easy: talk about all the things that have gone wrong in the past… and how you’ve made sure they won’t happen again!

Here are just a few, short examples:

  • Faulty mic?  No problem! You either brought your own or have been professionally trained to project your voice without amplification.
  • No projector? No problem! Your slides are used for emphasis and visual focus, but your talk is dynamic enough that they’ll still get the full effect.
  • Things running late? No problem! You have a modular speech that can be trimmed to fit into a shorter time slot, without losing the message.

Tell them what went wrong before.

Then ensure them that it won’t happen at their event.