The Master Communicator Blog

How to recover from a blah presentation

You delivered a speech but felt flat. You talk yourself into believing you failed without proof. Here are six mental strategies to overcome the post-presentation blues.
September 12, 2023

You delivered a speech but felt flat. You internalize your disappointment and talk yourself into believing you failed without proof. That’s the post-presentation blues. Pro and novice speakers experience it. Your ability to redirect your thoughts towards the positive can make the difference between a setback and a leap forward in your speaker journey.

Do you go through periods of rumination about how you interacted at a meeting, delivered a talk, or completed a media interview? Do you replay the moments in your head when you momentarily lost your train of thought, forgot to mention one detail albeit a less important one, or generally fell off your game? Perhaps you relive conversations and exchanges where you intended to be more assertive but chose to be polite and acquiescent instead.

Dwelling on your performance as a communicator is common. If your standards are high and your set point skews towards the glass-half-empty mindset, you may struggle with long periods of negative self-evaluation, despite positive reviews from others.

  • I should have spoken sooner during the Q+A session.
  • Was I unclear with my answer to that question?
  • Did I look good on camera or tired from partying the night before?
  • Did I stand my ground forcefully when challenged to defend my opinion?

Reflecting on past performance is good when it serves as the post-game replay that informs your continuous improvement. But when it becomes a hammer on your brain, brooding rumination can be a drain on your energy and the source of unnecessary anxiety and self-doubt.

If you’re like me, this pattern of playing back the perceived mistakes and weak moments is difficult to overcome. The tendency toward perfection, which has dogged me all my life, will invade my waking thoughts (and dreams) if I allow it room. Years of meditation practice and mindfulness work have provided the tools to neutralize the “gremlins” of doubt and second guesses. Yet they persist and threaten to zap me of the creative juices I need to tackle my next presentation or speaking opportunity.

For decades, I played tennis but poorly. Somehow, I never broke through performance anxiety on the court to reach a state of flow and enjoyment. That meant that I would sulk for days about my lack of athleticism, only to return to the court the following weekend and experience the same disillusion. I finally wised up and gave up the game.

Unrealistic expectations set us up for disappointment. Maybe if I had accepted that I would remain a beginner-level tennis player indefinitely, I would have left the court more satisfied.

In his book, Stop Overthinking, Nick Trenton looks at rumination as a mode of overthinking. At the conclusion of a challenging feat like delivering a presentation, often there is a mental lull. “When no task dominates, the brain ends up mulling over its place in the world and processes and reprocesses” past events and social information. The result, he says, is a runaway brain and unnecessary anxiety.

Some of my C-suite clients experience negative rumination after they speak in public. They’re not alone. Here are some examples of ruminating that are commonly experienced by leaders at all levels, even when the outcome of the triggering event was positive.

Thoughts that the results should have been better.

  • Re-playing a verbal stumble in your head.
  • Reliving a moment of vulnerability.
  • Dwelling on a glitch of little consequence.
  • Feeling shortchanged in praise and validation of your performance.
  • Focusing on your weaknesses, shortcomings, and flaws at the expense of your greatness.

Don’t stress. There are proven techniques to cope with nagging dissatisfaction.

1. Take a mental victory lap.

Did you give your best effort when it was your turn to speak? Did you prepare fully and earnestly? Did you set an intention of service to your audience? Fill your mental downtime with thoughts of satisfaction that you met the opportunity with all you had.

2. Fill the void with something you love.

Do something you love as soon as you start having anxious thoughts about underperforming during your speech. Seek healthy life-affirming distractions. Change your setting, connect with nature, listen to music, move your body, and hang with people or pets who appreciate you unconditionally. Keep your energy high and positive but tuned into a different frequency. 

3. Three good things, three better, next time. 

Without overthinking it, write down three things that went well and three that could have gone better. Answer the question: What can I learn from this and do differently next time? There is no success without failure. Save your notes for reference the next time you’re asked to deliver a talk. Your observations will take on new meaning after some time has passed.

4. Acknowledge the small wins.

Stop musing over that presentation and look for the rays of sunshine in all aspects of your life. My friend, Susan Ford Collins, success and leadership coach and founder of The Technology of Success, coined the term “Success Filing” as a technique used by highly successful people to acknowledge themselves and tally the small victories of everyday life.

5. Accept praise unconditionally.

How often do you receive a compliment only to reply, “but it could have been better.” Stop it. Say “thank you” for the kind words and neutralize the self-deprecating voice in your head. Accept constructive feedback and remember the advice of Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

6. Practice mindfulness.

This is a helpful skill to rein in hyper-focusing on negative thoughts. It can be practiced anywhere and anytime. Mindfulness, in essence, means connecting with the present moment (the here and now), while noticing inner experiences (e.g., thoughts, emotions, sensations, etc.) non-judgmentally.

Presenting with ease and confidence takes time to master. Be kind to yourself and don’t let unnecessary self-criticism get in the way of your greatest potential at the podium. You are already a rock star. Believe it.

Rosemary Ravinal

Business leaders and entrepreneurs who want to elevate their public speaking impact, executive presence, and media interview skills come to me for personalized attention and measurable results. I am recognized as America’s Premier Bilingual Public Speaking Coach after decades as a corporate spokesperson and media personality in the U.S. mainstream, Hispanic and Latin American markets. My company’s services are available for individuals, teams, in-person and online, and in English and Spanish in South Florida and elsewhere.

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