By Matthew C Wallace

Everyone Makes Them…

I have never announced any event or game 100% perfectly.  Never.  Regardless, I expect 100% perfection.  Always.  If expect anything else, I will get even less than that.

It is said that you are your #1 critic.  In my case, no one scorns me harder than me.  If I don’t announce a game 100% perfectly, I churn in utter, internal frustration.   If I make a mistake editing rosters or copy (that I sometimes have to do myself), I chastise myself for not being thorough.  If don’t stage myself to be there 90 minutes ahead, I’m stomping my feet.  I crave to be pristine in all that I do.

Recently, it hit me to write about mistakes after I announced a foul for the wrong basketball team.  For those not familiar with basketball environments, they can get extremely loud and the time between plays short and swift.  If the official does not move close to the scoring table and chooses to hold the fingers up for the jersey number and mouth from 50 feet away, “White”, the lip movement can easily be construed for “Red”.  Oh, how the eyes can fail a person.  When I looked up at the scoreboard and saw the foul counts in the wrong spot, I dashed down and checked.  Sure enough.  I screwed up.  Dang it!  In spite, no monumental thing happened to me.  Frankly, it seemed like no one noticed…doubtful.  No time and no way to correct the boo-boo.  The game moved on.

Public Address Announcer Geometry Mathematics

Ok.  This brings me to the point of even bringing up mistakes because it’s all in how we handle them in life, right?  You bet.  You get a “C” on a geometry test.  You receive a speeding ticket.  You forget to make your credit card payment.  You lose track of time and are late for work.  You poorly read lips and call the foul on the wrong team.  How should you handle it?  Fix it if you can and move on.

Let’s take each example.  You receive an unhappy grade on a geometry test.  Fine.  A person studies real hard, stays up late doing so and shows up to the exam ready to go.  C.  There should be no emotion only a “Why?”  Figure out what you did wrong.  Make sure you understand the concept.  Aim for an “A+” next time and…move on.

You get caught speeding.  Good grief.  Certainly, you could waste time fighting the ticket.  Fear of points and rising insurance definitely stress a person.  More than likely, most people will simply pay the darn thing and…move on.

Who hasn’t forgotten to make a payment?  Anyone with houses, credit cards, car leases and college loans has slipped up somewhere along the line.  Oh, crap!  A penalty is dropped on the statement and maybe even a phone call is made to the offender asking where their payment is.  And so, provided the funds are there, click, click, click on the Internet and the payment gets made then…move on.

Public Address Announcer Late for Work

How many have stayed up too late doing heaven knows what and overslept.  You arrive to the office and the boss is indignantly tapping his index finger on his watch at you in front of everyone you work with.  Most likely, you apologize, go plop in your chair, get busy and…move on.

And calling a foul on the wrong team?  Well, a stall in the action helps.  Why?  It gives the announcer that rare opportunity to say, “Correction….”  Making a correction over the PA, so that everyone has correct information, is ONE right way.  More often than not, a stall does not get provided.  The game just gets moving and so should the announcer.

Public Address Announcer Angry

When I made the mistake, was I mad as a hornet?  You betcha.  But…I moved on.  I corrected my docs to match the scorekeeper’s.  Noted the mistake on my paperwork.  Internally, I mentally smacked myself upside the back of the head for knowing better.  I went back to monitoring the game to get the rest of the calls correct.  Most importantly, I moved on.

Young piano students.  One of the great failures of a young, beginning piano student lies in their personality.  If they cannot accept a mistake in the middle of playing a piece of music and have to stop and start over, they will never finish playing a song…ever.  The best of the best note the mistake but, play through it and…move on.   Wilhelm Kempff, one of the greatest pianists of all time can be heard making multiple mistakes while performing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata 3rd Movement:

You can hear the first error at the :40 mark.  He just plays through it and… moves on.  Does he know he made a mistake?  I guarantee it.  Was he aiming for 100% perfection in his performance?  No doubt.  Did he scorn himself over it?  Highly likely but, …he moved on.  Why?  There were other pieces to play and performances to give.  There’s oodles of examples on the internet.  The great ones blast on through the mistakes.  Listen to a professional golfer after a round.  He’ll remember the second shot on the seventh hole out of the deep rough, his hand position, foot placement, spin placed on the ball, the wind at the time, the landscape, the noise and the error made.  Yet, he shot a 68.  All the best professionals always know every little and last detail.  I aspire to be just that good in announcing.

Public Address Announcer Roll with the Punches

How about my blooper?  I did move on.  Why?  There were a ton more announcements to make in the rest of that contest alone plus, a second game, a game the following week, a softball tournament coming up and it goes on.  Do I recall all the detail?  Sure.

The game was moving at a wild pace and, the entire score table team was frantically trying to keep up. The visiting coach was standing in front of me so, I was leaning to the right to see.  The foul occurred on the far end in a crowd of players so, I focused on the official.  There were two 21s on the court.   The ref came only part way across the floor, held up 21 and said, “Red”.  I could not quite hear her but watched her lips.  As it turns out, she had said, “White”.  Oops!!!!  Eyes and lips play tricks.  They do.  Anyway, they were on the offensive end so, I thought she called it on the defense.  Plus, I believed I had caught her lips correctly so, I thought nothing of it.  My failure was not catching the offensive foul sign from the ref.  I totally missed it.  After a quick check with the scorekeeper, my egregiousness became clear.  In the 5 seconds to sort it on my part, the ball had been thrown in and forward we went.  I corrected it on my sheets in the process of it all.  I noted my error for future use.  Both players fouled additionally further into the game but, my announcements were correct then because I had long straightened out my data.  

I did not blush.  I did not wave my arms.  I beat myself up internally for a split second.  I refocused quickly and kept going.  I call it “rolling with the punches with a smile”.  The best folks roll through any problem like nothing happened but, realize it all happened, note it, strive to get it right next time and move on.

BTW: How many mistakes did I make in the above game?  According to my notes, 3.  I missed some subs and the dreadful foul mistake.

Let’s get into the mistakes themselves.  They could be anything: forgetting the mic was still on and accidentally talking, mispronounced names, wrong down, incorrect batter, flubbed kill or block, foul on the wrong team.  This list is endless.  Note it.  Document it.  Tattoo it in your brain.  Understand the error and its cause.  Be clear on the corrective action.  Put into your practice the best practice…for you.  And…after all is said and done, move on simply because there is more work to do.

Then, there are the mistakes you did not know you made until either A) Someone says something right away or B) You get feedback later.  Ok, on A, you’ve got a chance at corrective action if the timing and opportunity is plausible.  Once a ref ran by the scorers table and said “That was a 2 not a 3.  Correct it”.  We all got a chance to correct it on the spot.  If you can reasonably correct a mistake.  Do it!

Public Address Announcer Tough Tomato Paste

On B, well…crap.  It would’ve been nice to know; however, note, document, tattoo and move on.  I once found out I had been mispronouncing a player’s name all season but, no one gave me feedback until the last game…at halftime.  Goodness.  The upside was I announced it correctly for one half of a game of the season.  The downside lies in feedback.  If you don’t know you’re making a mistake…if no one says anything…how on earth can one be expected to take corrective action?  You all know the answer.  Tough Tomato Paste!!!  This is where I encourage all the listeners of the world to speak up.  I welcome folks to correct me.  It does not upset me.  I am NOT ashamed to admit a mistake, unafraid to move on from it and happy to get the feedback that helps me do a better job so, speak up and tell me when I’ve done it wrong.  I prefer to do things right, you know.

Consider keeping an informal log of mistakes and their corrections.  I met an announcer that kept a journal of games and special situations.  I have a notebook where I keep very informal notes errors, special rules and other miscellaneous notes that I peek at.  As will always be my advice, do what works for you.

Public Address Announcer Show Ballroom Dancer Waltz

Whatever an announcer is or is not, they should waltz in that door with the expectation of announcing a 100% perfect event.  This attitude is nothing short of professional and persevering.  If announcers are nothing else in the world, they should aim for a professional performance as part of game and event operations.  Announcers are not the show but, certainly, they are needed accoutrements, accessories if you will, of any event by providing solid information to the crowd.  Information the crowd could use and needs.  Will mistakes get made?  Of course.  How silly to think otherwise.  I, myself, go out of my way to minimize mistakes and mitigate their effect.   If I can diminish their effect with a correction, I will.  Otherwise, I note it and move on to the next announcement.  Why?  It’s just as important as the one flubbed.  Don’t see the purpose in 2 screw-ups in a row.

NOTE: Officials and administrators frown upon anything slowing up the pace of things so watch out!  Stopping or slowing down a contest to correct mistakes, unless mandated by the officials, is a no-no.  If a gap exists in time and space to get the correction in, awesome!!!  Else…move on.

All announcers should work on their practice for managing mistakes.  All means all.  If they don’t, they hurt themselves and their efforts.  As an announcer, I hear others’ mistakes (as I’m convinced they hear mine) when sitting at a ballgame and I tune in to see how they manage it.  I like to learn from others’ methods.  Different people have different ways.  I recommend listening to others at the college and pro levels.  Make a mental note of what they do then, apply what’s pragmatic to your own skill set.

Now, there’s contending with everyone else’s mistakes.  Officials will signal 21 when the meant 12.  Copy from marketing will have grammar troubles.  Cheerleaders will show up ahead of cue.  Rosters will have erroneous data.  For me, it’s all part of the event.  I deal with it.  I ask questions, make changes and get direction from the head cheeses.  If I can autonomously act on an issue that helps everyone out, I will.  Mostly, I will get the corrections from those in charge.  My preference, if at all possible, is to remain within the bounds of my role.  I figure if we all focus on our squares and, occasionally, lend helping hands, we will get the best possible result together.  Administration administrates.  Copywriters write.  Officials officiate.  Scorekeepers keep score.  Announcers announce.

Public Address Announcer Proud Arrogant Man

Every game and event is learning experience.  The best are always learning.  One thing that irks me is announcer arrogance.  “I’ve announced thousands of games…I’ve done it over and over…I don’t need scripts because I’ve memorized it all…blah, blah, blah…”  If a person truly believes they know everything, they need to keep clear of me because I don’t know everything and I need to learn from others.  This arrogance can’t help me and I, undoubtedly, cannot help them.  Keep an open mind.  Every event has provided me something new.  I’ve announced entire seasons and learned something new on the last day.  If you take a arrogant approach because you are sooooo experienced and good, you downgrade yourself and even other announcers.  As a group, we should be continually upgrading ourselves and announcing standards.  That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

Public Address Announcer Variety

Mistakes, like new rosters, are items to learn from and about.  If even a pittance of time is spent considering an error and the associated corrective action, an announcer invested well.  Variety is the spice of life.  Events and games provide more individually unprecedented situations than can be enumerated.  The means the announcer faces something new each time.  It could be as foundational as pronouncing a tongue twisting last name, as unexceptional as a broken chair to sit in or as complex as an evacuation.  The question for announcers abroad on anything before, during and after an event, particularly mistakes, should always be, “What can I do better?”  If there is nothing more to do, no way to improve and no more to learn, then the time to head to pasture is upon us.  I can readily admit that the pasture is a great distance from me.

So, how do you handle mistakes? It might just improve my game.

About Matthew C Wallace

Matthew C. Wallace is the owner of publicaddressannouncer.org. He is a public address announcer, writer, webmaster, historian, author as well as a former executive and musician. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and children.

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