Speaking in front of an audience takes courage, but doing so after tripping on your shoelaces or fumbling with your props takes a whole different kind of bravery. Public speakers experience embarrassing moments regardless of their level of experience. Below, Toastmasters share their most cringe-worthy stories—and how they can laugh at them.
The speech topic was “Breaking the Shackles.” The gimmick was that I was handcuffed behind my back. No trick cuffs. I rehearsed many, many times, but when the big moment came, I couldn’t get the cuffs off. Finally, I did it, but I was sweating! Learned my lesson: Always have a backup plan.
Marty Gallagher, DTM
2 ChangeU • Plano, Texas, U.S.
When I served as area director, I visited a club located in a building that had a coffee shop in the lobby. Since I arrived early, I treated myself to a mocha latte. Then I went to the meeting, where I introduced myself to the group, talked about how great their club meeting was and how I looked forward to getting to know them all during the year. I felt incredibly energized afterward and headed back to my car. When I looked in my rearview mirror I was horrified! My mocha latte had sprayed out of the tiny hole in the lid of my cup and covered my nose in mocha freckles! Let my embarrassment be a warning to you: Check a mirror before you step in front of an audience.
TGL Toastmasters • Arrington, Tennessee, U.S.
Hair Dye Disaster
Before participating in an International Speech Contest, I decided to dye my graying hair. I tried a new product, and my hair turned bright orange! I still wanted to give my speech, so I tucked my hideous hair under a cap and performed. I showed my hair to a couple of people and hightailed it for home to dye it again.
Pinta Club and Santa Maria Toastmasters • Santa Maria, California, U.S.
A Bagpiper and a Blooper
On the 25th of January every year, our club hosts a Burns Supper—the traditional birthday celebration of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. The evening begins with a ceremony to welcome in the “haggis,” the traditional supper dish. Two years ago, I was the first woman in the club to recite Burns’s humorous poem, “Address to the Haggis,” a long poem written in old Scots.
The kilted bagpiper entered the room, followed by the haggis-bearer holding the haggis aloft on a silver platter. The music stopped and I began “the address.” Using all my Toastmasters skills, I recited the poem with verve and vigor. Then, during a particularly dramatic part, out of my mouth popped a very rude English word. Twenty-five startled faces looked at me. Then, in a heartbeat, my Toastmasters training took over. I smoothly glossed over the word and carried on as if nothing had happened.
Moira Beaton, DTM
Waverly Communicators • Edinburgh, Scotland
During a Toastmasters meeting held in a hospital, I leaned on a flexible wall that had a door to the next room. The door was not secure, and I fell through to the next room where a class for expectant parents preparing for childbirth was taking place. Needless to say, we were all very surprised!
Susan Brooks, DTM
Talk of Monmouth and No Limits Toastmasters • Tinton Falls, New Jersey, U.S.
Jingle Bell Remix
Last December, I signed up to speak at our Toastmasters district holiday party and wrote a short, humorous speech about the lack of snow in our area of Southern California. I made it into a rhyme to sing to the tune of “Jingle Bells.” I practiced for weeks and included comical motions and facial expressions.
When the day came, the director led the audience in group singing for 10 or 15 minutes, so when I was called up to speak, my fellow Toastmasters mistakenly thought I was leading another sing-along. As I began belting out my humorous lyrics, their voices overpowered mine with the actual words to “Jingle Bells.” All I could do was smile as I continued to sing my short, original song. When I was almost finished, the crowd realized they were singing over my performance and stopped. I ended with a quick bow and raced back to my seat.
Talk On Main Toastmasters • Riverside, California, U.S.
Every Toastmaster at some stage in their career experiences a moment of embarrassment. It comes with the territory! Mine came when I was vice president public relations for my club and I was responsible for managing the club Facebook page. I came home late one Wednesday night after our usual club meeting and, before I went to bed, I posted about an event our club was to host. I was feeling tired at the time but didn’t realize the mistake I had made until the comments started to fly in from club members with great hilarity: I had posted that the event was to take place at 2 a.m.! Needless to say, a swift retraction took place.
Vox Populi Dublin Toastmasters • Dublin, Ireland
I am 56 years old and have upper dentures due to an accident. I forgot to glue them in one night and the next day I gave a speech in front of 50 people. During my speech, they came out! I caught them and hurriedly put them back in without missing a beat—but what a nightmare.
Success Speaks • Spanaway, Washington, U.S.
Nerves Get Moving
For my Ice Breaker speech 25 years ago, I was very nervous. I stood behind the lectern and held on tight so the audience could not see my knocking knees. I thought I had done a good job of hiding my nervousness until I saw the green light. I stopped mid-sentence and went to sit down. As I left the lectern, I discovered that the lectern and I had traveled across the front of the room until it was against the wall. The heavy, wooden lectern did not have wheels. It was a difficult lectern to move when done intentionally! I was horrified when I realized what had happened. I knew the audience knew about my nervousness. My evaluator was very kind and supportive in the feedback she gave me. If she had not been, I might not have given another speech in Toastmasters.
Mary Swanson, DTM
Minnesota River Valley and Super Speakers • Jordan, Minnesota, U.S.
Man Almost Down!
During a retelling of a folktale, I gestured wildly as I described the story of a man who unfairly lost a bet and had to cook a feast for his friends. In the story, the man is spotted standing on a table in his kitchen, stirring a pot of stew hanging above a lit candle. At the last moment, I decided to act it out by standing on a nearby office chair with wheels. I waved my arms like a maniac to not fall off the chair. Luckily, I managed to stay upright and continued with the story. I ended up with a few strained muscles and a very funny evaluation.
Chuck Field, DTM
Gator Club and Talking Gators • Gainesville, Florida, U.S.
All public speakers are bound to stumble, fumble and try things that fail from time to time. Learn to laugh at yourself and the audience will laugh along with you.
Laura Mishkind is associate editor for the Toastmaster magazine. Reach her at email@example.com.