Five Tips on Staying Cool When Things Go Wrong

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An accident happened during the filming of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” You can see it in the scene where George (Jimmy Stewart) points his drunken Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) home from a party.

Just as Thomas Mitchell staggers away, an off-camera stagehand accidentally knocks over a piece of equipment. The noise could have ruined the scene, but the actors improvised. Thomas shouted, “I’m all right! I’m all right!” and Jimmy stayed in character, looking amused. The scene with the accident turned out better than scripted.

Equipment fails, guests are late, phone lines drop. When something goes awry, it is not what happens, but how you react that matters. Here are five tips on how to improve your performance when unexpected situations happen during your show.

1. Expect things to go wrong. There’s a great TV commercial for Prudential Insurance that demonstrates how most people see the past as a mixture of good and bad events, but see the future as mostly positive. The first step in managing disaster is to expect it. Remind your team that part of every show includes dealing with snafus.

2. Treat disaster as your improvisation partner. On stage, if your partner begins clucking like a chicken, the rules of improv state that you have to accept it and build on it. When your phones stop working or a guest is late ask, “How can we have fun with this?” When Mariah Carey was 45 minutes late calling The Bert Show, they built on that tension by answering her call on-air, saying they couldn’t talk, hanging up and going on with the show.

3. Acknowledge emotions. You get angry. Your cohost gets upset. So what? It’s normal for blood pressures to rise. Psychologists say that people who simply take a second to notice that they are mad can get over it and through it more quickly. Acknowledging emotions can also prevent the team from turning on each other.

4. Breathe. Mindfully taking deep breaths in and exhaling slowly works wonders to alleviate stress. Try it.

5. Imagine success. It is easy to visualize your career going down the drain when your show goes in the ditch. Banish negative thoughts during those crucial minutes. Imagine yourself wrangling the situation into a success instead of failure, and it will.

One of my favorite quotes is, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”  Remember that the next time things go haywire during your show – or during your life

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