On-Air Freudian Slip: How To Handle Mistakes

A few days ago, Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s Morning Joe committed a classic Freudian slip when reading a news story about women’s tears.

Ms. Brzezinski clearly meant to use the word “dip.” Here’s the partial transcript:

“According to a study published in the journal Science, men who smell a woman’s tears experience a dick in both sexual arousal (laughter, unintelligible). The effect occurred even when men studied didn’t see the women crying and didn’t know what they were sniffing were tears.”

I can empathize with Ms. Brzezinski. A few weeks ago, I was leading a media training workshop when I quite innocently said something that turned out to be a sexual double entendre. As soon as it came out of my mouth, I realized what I had said – but it was too late. One of the women in the training class started laughing – and laughter being contagious, the whole class collapsed into hysterics.

I was mortified. But I instantly knew the best strategy would be to acknowledge the unintended double meaning, laugh at the joke, and give the trainees a few moments to get the laughter out of their systems. The laughter subsided after a minute or two, we regrouped, and we forged ahead.

Ms. Brzezinski’s decision to ignore her verbal slip was probably a mistake. Her audience – not to mention her on-set colleagues – was surely distracted by the gaffe and unable to hear the rest of the news story anyway. She could have acknowledged the gaffe without compromising her professionalism (e.g. “Well, that’s going to happen once in a while. Okay, moving on…”).


Mika Brzezinski

Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Photo: MSNBC

If you speak often enough as a media spokesperson or public speaker, the unexpected is going to happen.

Here’s my rule of thumb: If only a few people noticed the gaffe, move on without acknowledging it – or else you’ll be the person bringing it to the audience’s attention. But if the majority of the audience caught it, smile, gracefully acknowledge it (e.g. “Well, that’s clearly not the word choice I was going for”), give your audience a moment to recover, and move on.

Related: Can You Stop An On-Air Laughing Fit?

Related: The Ten Worst Media Disasters of 2010

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