On New Year's Eve, Mariah Carey walked offstage following a technological malfunction
Mel Robbins: We may all find ourselves in a similar situation, but there are steps we can take to regain control
Editor’s Note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator, legal analyst, best-selling author and keynote speaker. She also is a contributing editor for Success magazine. In 2014, she was named outstanding news talk-radio host by the Gracie Awards. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Every day cyber bullies choose a new victim, and today they selected singer Mariah Carey. While performing live Saturday on ABC’s “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest,” she had a public meltdown on stage.
Carey, a five-time Grammy winner and one of the top selling recording artists of all time, was the final act before the ball drop at midnight. Instead of witnessing the pop superstar usher in 2017 on a high note, viewers saw Carey in the middle of a technological breakdown.
Ultimately, after trying to push through several frustrating and awkward songs, she said, “It just doesn’t get any better,” and stormed off the stage.
And while I don’t know what caused the technological issues, I do know that if you are one of the people making fun of Carey today, you likely don’t do much public speaking or performing.
I am a public speaker for a living. And I know there is nothing worse than experiencing a technological breakdown in the middle of a live performance. I don’t care if you are Mariah Carey or you are just presenting an idea for a new fundraiser to your local school board or church council. When you find yourself standing in front of an audience – with a broken projector, a crashed computer, a video that won’t load or a PowerPoint that’s not working – it’s a nightmare.
Time suddenly stops. Your heart races. You feel a mixture of vulnerability, frustration and embarrassment all at once. And your thoughts only compound the issue. Your focus immediately goes to what’s wrong, and you can no longer remember your carefully rehearsed remarks.
At one point or another, each of us will experience this terrifying sensation. And while it is unavoidable, there are several ways we can reclaim focus and take control of the situation. Carey almost succeeded. She almost made it through, but she just missed the very last (and hardest) step — assuming full control by winging it.
So here are a set of steps to consider when faced with a similar predicament:
1. Take a breath
When Carey realized that the songs were not playing as they should, she paused, breathed and surveyed the extent of the damage.
And you can do that too. Remember, the audience has no idea what is supposed to happen. If you find yourself in the middle of a sales pitch or presenting a project in front of a class and you can’t remember a detail, take a breath and remind yourself that only you know what is “supposed” to happen.
If you change mid-stream or if you leave something out, there is a good chance no one will notice. Most problems resolve themselves within a few seconds, so take that deep breath. It will help you stay calm and give the issue a chance to heal.
2. Tell the audience there’s a problem
If you find the problem becoming a persistent issue, inform the audience. Notice, that’s exactly what Mariah did. She told the audience, “We can’t hear,” acknowledging a technological issue she, herself, could not resolve. If she had made a joke about the situation, it would have been even better.
Talking about the problem accomplishes three goals. First, it humanizes you and puts the audience on your side because they immediately feel bad that you are dealing with this issue. Second, it calms your mind to talk about it – rather than simply think about it. Third, if there is an audiovisual team or a larger production team (as was the case with Carey), it alerts them to the issue immediately.
3. Keep going
Next, do your best to just keep going, despite the broken clicker, buffering video or issue with the lights. Carey did that as well. She told the audience, “We’ll just sing.” And even as she missed some of the lyrics and struggled to keep up with the pre-recorded version, she acknowledged the issue and pushed forward saying, “We’re missing some of the vocals, but it is what it is.” And as ABC started cutting to shots of the crowd, rather than Carey, she suggested fixes. But in the end, ABC couldn’t pull it together.
Carey was alone, in the dark and disconnected from the show. That’s ABC’s fault, not hers, and she deserved credit for daring to keep going.
4. Abandon Plan A and assume control by winging it
This is the one thing Carey failed to do. After several failed attempts, she walked off stage. But she could have reclaimed control. She could have stepped to the center of the stage and simply winged it. Carey could have pulled out her earpiece, told ABC to cut the technology and clear the stage, and sang the last song a cappella style.
Of course, this wouldn’t have been easy to do. It requires a level of self-monitoring and control that is particularly difficult to summon in a moment of intense stress. But it is possible.
And while the performance may not have been perfect, it would have demonstrated grit, commitment and control — characteristics that would have endeared Carey to her audience, more so than any song she could sing.
So when all else fails, embrace Plan B and improvise.