We All Wobble. It’s What Comes Next That Matters.

Washington Nationals star pitcher Stephen Strasburg has been in a dismal slump lately. The once dominant starter suddenly can’t get batters out, and has one of baseball’s worst ERAs, a key measure of success.

In a recent write-up of one of his performances, the website SB Nation Federal Baseball wrote:

“Strasburg was clearly frustrated on the mound too, and on a few of the hits in the fourth, he failed to back up home on balls hit to the outfield with runners coming around. [Nationals Coach Matt] Williams definitely noticed.”

Instead of backing up the catcher after giving up a hit to guard against an errant throw, Strasburg gave up. It’s easy, if unfortunate, to understand why that happens. Strasburg has been struggling, he’s frustrated, and he’s unable to conceal his dismay when yet another thing goes wrong.

Stephen Strasburg Wiki Commons Credit Johnmaxmena2

I witness the same dynamic with public speakers often. Something goes wrong during their presentation, they become instantly demoralized, and they compound the error by failing to do the things that would prevent additional mistakes.

To use another sports analogy, I often think of this as similar to gymnasts on a balance beam. Some athletes may wobble a bit on the beam, but they fight with everything they have to regain their balance and stay upright (those are probably the athletes who have a nice collection of medals).

Others, however, may have mounted the beam while suffering from a bout of self-doubt, so the moment they wobble and know their scores are going to get knocked down, they give up and tumble off the beam.

Balance Beam iStockPhoto PPT

All of this may seem plainly obvious, but I see this playing out in our training workshops several times each month.

Here are two recent examples.

One woman I recently worked with led off her presentation well but went blank when she transitioned from her introduction to her first point. She calmly looked at her notes, allowed several seconds of silence to elapse, looked back up, and continued. She wobbled—but fought to regain her balance, and succeeded.

Another person I worked with had the opposite experience. At just about the same point in her presentation, she went blank, got flustered, and unraveled. She lost her composure, finally giving up, apologizing, and asking to start over. She wobbled and fell to the ground.

The next time you begin to wobble, remember my advice to fight to stay on the beam. Audiences may be able to see that you wobbled a bit—but your grace and poise in managing that moment will enhance their impression of you, more than if you hadn’t wobbled at all.

Photo credit: Johnmaxmena2, via Wikimedia Commons