Oh say can you sing

Did she? Or didn’t she? That was the question.

“Much ado about nothing,” wrote the folks at The PR Verdict, rightly declaring Beyoncé Knowles’s performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the presidential inauguration a non-event and conferring a “There’s no ‘There’ There” PR Award on the “scandal.”

After all, lip-syncing, faux-fingering and their musical equivalents are practically de rigueur nowadays when real-world conditions make truly live performances inconvenient.

Miss Whitney Houston herself, who set the bar so high with her standard-setting rendition of the sporting-event standard, sang live to a dead microphone while her pre-recorded version of the national anthem was broadcast across the globe. And, at President Obama’s 2008 inauguration, classically trained cellist Yo-Yo Ma deliberately decided to do the symphonic synonym for his inaugural performance in sub-freezing weather to preempt sprung strings, cracked instruments or intonation problems with the musicians accompanying him.

Still, tongues wagged about Beyoncé’s inaugural performance. “Was it live or was it Memorex,” Milli or Vanilli?, people pondered. Until the week before the Super Bowl, that is, when Beyoncé disabused her detractors by tackling the anthem a capella during a press conference to promote her upcoming half-time performance.

Both performances — the impromptu star-spangled singing and her subsequent Super Bowl show — dazzled, leaving no doubt that the lady, she can sing.

But what allows Beyoncé, Whitney Houston and Yo-Yo Ma to perform another day while Milli and Vanilli vanished into the vapor?

One of the attractions of live events is the unexpected, and the tension and drama that unfolds as all-too-human things happen to people who are too-often labeled superhuman.

To turn R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry’s phrase, everybody stumbles sometimes. So fans are more forgiving when otherwise reliable performers like Beyoncé and Mr. Ma do less than their best.

With that in mind, the lesson for mere-mortals is to remain true to yourselves. Stick to the things that make you, you.

If you’re naturally confident, street smart and can take care of yourself — like Beyoncé — trust your instincts, and diligently and diplomatically defend the true you. Just contain that confidence to avoid crossing a fine line and becoming cocky.

If your talent is unquestioned and you want to ward off performance demons — like Mr. Ma — dutifully disclose your decision without being unnecessarily apologetic or falling on your, er, bow.

Be self aware. Act quickly. Ask for feedback from a (brutally) honest friend if you fear you misstepped. Explain — don’t excuse — your actions and apologize if you’re remotely wrong. Respond simply and honestly.

As Watergate and numerous events since have proven, the cover up is always worse than the lie. A timely “I’m sorry” can easily and effectively build trust, allowing you and the people you lead to look ahead and focus on other, more important things.

What do you think? Continue the conversation….