“Do you want to look good on stage during your next presentation?”
2001 World Champion of Public Speaking Darren LaCroix posed this question at a recent conference. All across the room, hands shot up—including mine. Of course I want to look good on stage. Who doesn’t?
To this Darren shouted: “It’s NOT about you!”
He’s right: Presentations are not about the speaker; they are about the audience. Yet speakers spend a lot of time, energy, and emotion worrying about how they are going to look on stage. Worrying about how you look breaks your connection with your audience.
Here are 12 worries to stop sweating over before your next presentation:
1. Fear of failure
Fear and anxiety are a natural part of speaking. Fear doesn’t mean your presentation is doomed to fail. It just means you care. You want to do well for your audience. Welcome fear as part of the process, but don’t let it get in the way of giving your audience a message they need to hear.
2. Worst-case scenario
Your mind is not your friend. When I ask speakers for the worst thing that could happen to them onstage, the answers I get would make even the most enthusiastic horror film fan cringe—being booed, vomiting, falling off the stage, wardrobe malfunctions, and ruining your career so that you have to live in a van down by the river. With proper preparation and practice, there is a 99.9 percent chance your worst presentation nightmare won’t come true. Get out of the worst-case scenario mentality, and focus on what you can do to provide value to the audience.
3. Constant comparison
It’s time to banish the curse of constant comparison. Stop worrying that another speaker had better slides, better stories, or a nicer suit. It’s not a competition. Speaking is about connection not comparison.
4. Reading the audience’s mind
Do you ever wonder what your audience is thinking about you while you’re speaking? Do you look at their faces and your mind wanders off to places like “Do they think I’m totally boring? Do they hate this speech? Would they rather be somewhere else?” You can’t read your audience’s mind. If they look confused, ask them whether everything you are saying is making sense. Trying to read minds will freak you out and break your connection to delivering your message.
5. Answering every question the audience has
Question-and-answer sessions can cause even the most seasoned presenter to break out in a sweat. You try to prepare for every question you can possibly imagine your audience asking. Instead of preparing and practicing your presentation, you prep answers to questions that most likely won’t be asked. Remember, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you.”
6. The ‘umm’ factor
“Umms” happen. Every day you use all kinds of filler words in conversation. A few crutch words like “umms” and the occasional elongated “sooooo” are not going to kill your speech. Don’t worry about it. Chances are your audience barely noticed because they are so used to filtering them out in presentations.
7. I can’t believe I forgot…
My clients often say “I can’t believe I forgot…” They beat themselves up for what they wanted to say, but didn’t. Here’s the white-hot truth: No one else knows what you wanted to say. If your audience didn’t miss it, why should you fret because you didn’t remember to say it?
8. What if I finish early?
Filling all your time is a common worry. You’ve got 20 minutes to speak, but you only have 15 minutes of material. What are you going to do? Have you ever heard an audience complain that the speaker ended early? No! If you end early, the audience will thank you.
9. Screwing up
What if you mess up in front of everyone? Will it ruin your credibility? Undermine your authority? Will the world end? Once I was giving a presentation in front of 100 conservative professionals. I wanted to say “quite a bit of research,” but my mouth opted for efficiency and instead I said “quite a bit + ch.” Yep, I swore and my adrenaline started to course through my veins. Was I met with disapproving stares? No, I was met with laughter! Mistakes are magical. They make you human in the eyes of your audience.
Memorizing puts the focus on getting everything just right in your presentation. It’s a constant inward focus on what’s coming next and the ceaseless pursuit of perfection, instead of focusing outward to the audience. Don’t memorize—internalize. I like to group my presentations into chunks, i.e.; my intro is a chunk. That way I know what is coming next and I can keep it conversational.
11. Taking a pause
There is a myth that you must fill every second of your speaking time with words. If you pause, your audience will think you don’t know your material or somehow you’ll undermine your credibility. There’s nothing wrong with taking a pause. If you need to catch your breath before you start your presentation, pause, make eye contact with the audience, smile, and then begin. Additionally, pausing lets your audience’s brain process all that great information you are relaying.
12. Will they like me?
Presentations are not about you. They’re about your audience. Create value for them, give them a great experience, and don’t worry about you. Do your best to prepare before ever stepping on the stage. Then just enjoy the connection you make and serving other people.
Giving a presentation makes you vulnerable. It’s easy to fall into the trap of worrying about all the things that could go wrong- making a mistake and how you are going to look on stage. However, with proper preparation and practice, you don’t have to sweat these worries during your presentation. It lets you focus on building a meaningful relationship with your audience.
How do you prep for presentation success? Share it in the comment section below.