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Overcome the fear of public speaking

On Broadway the goal is perfection. Actors memorize every line, every gesture and every interaction. The director demands nothing less. The audience expects nothing less.

I find that too many speakers head into their presentations placing similar expectations on themselves and as a result they feel a tremendous amount of pressure. The overwhelming fear that most people feel when it comes to public speaking can be summed in these few words – “what if I mess up?”

In order to relieve the pressure we need recognize the differences between a performance and a presentation.

Imagine an actor on Broadway stopping to check their script because they weren’t certain of their next line? That would be absurd. But if a presenter asks for a moment to check their notes would that strike anyone as even unusual?

If an actor stumbles over some words the audience will wince. But if a presenter mangles a word or two no one will pay it any thought.

If you are an actor the audience is preoccupied with your performance. That’s what everyone will be talking about after the play. That’s what the critics will be writing about.

But as a presenter the audience is preoccupied with your content not your performance.

If when your presentation is over you have delivered valuable content then the audience will not care if you had to check your notes once or twice or if you stumbled over a word or two. That’s not what they will remember. That’s not what they will discuss later with their colleagues. What they will discuss are the ideas that you brought to them and the solutions that you provided.

Now I’m not suggesting that delivery skills are unimportant. Of course you need to develop strong delivery habits and the stronger the better. But having strong presentation delivery habits does not mean that you have to be perfect. It does not mean that you can’t stop to check your notes, or go back to cover a key point that you missed, or mispronounce a word or two.

As anyone who has read my blogs with any frequency knows I am a very big believer in practicing and practicing again and practicing some more. But the mindset that should go along with all this practicing is that we are getting comfortable with our content. We are becoming very familiar with the conversation that we will be having with the audience.

What the mindset should not  be is that we are memorizing content that needs to be delivered flawlessly as if we were John Gielgud playing Hamlet.

Take the pressure off of yourself by rejecting the idea of perfection. The audience does not expect it and the success of your presentation does not depend upon it. Stop asking “what if I mess up?” – because you’re not on Broadway.


Let’s talk about your next presentation. Get in touch.


Don’t let “that guy” interrupt your presentation

I was at a party once telling my favorite story. Everyone has a favorite story, the one that always gets a laugh. I’m building towards the laugh line when a rude gentleman who had had a few too many interrupted. We’ll refer to him as “that guy.” Something I said had reminded “that guy” of his favorite story. He said “Oh, that reminds me of the time…”

The spell was broken, the rhythm was lost and my story was as good as done. At some point “that guy” turned back to me and said “I’m sorry….what were you saying?” Too late, never mind.

In presentation too many presenters are their own rude drunk interrupting their own story. This is because many presenters often have tangents in their talks and say things that are not essential to their presentation objective. They will interrupt their own content with information that only touches the outer edge of the presentation objective, because they often say things that occur to them while they  are speaking.

I call these “Oh, by the way” statements.

I once saw a gentleman delivering a presentation on the postal requirements for a specific direct mail piece that a customer was designing. This was, of course very relevant to the client. But then the speaker had an “oh, by the way” moment and went off on a tangent regarding postal requirements in general and how they are effecting the direct mail industry as a whole. He even mentioned how the new regulations were impacting his job.

This tangent of his was related to the topic at hand but it was not absolutely essential to the objective and so should never have been mentioned. It’s important to note as well that this little tangent only lasted ninety seconds or so but that is more than enough time to break the spell and lose the focus of your audience. Two or three of those kinds of tangents in a presentation are guaranteed to make your audience press the mental “off” switch on your talk.

To avoid this we must do two things, first relentlessly edit our content and remove from the presentation anything that is not absolutely essential to achieving the presentation objective. Next, practice the presentation and stick to the content so that we avoid impromptu tangents that draw the audience away from the presentation objective.

If we use the right techniques we can design content that will draw the audience in to our talk and hold their attention for every moment. Don’t let “that guy” interrupt and break the spell.


Want to talk about your next big presentation? Get in touch. 

Break this presentation rule and you’ll lose your audience

Three is a kind of magic number. If you rub the genie’s bottle you get three wishes, Sleeping Beauty had three fairy Godmothers, there were three stooges and three little pigs, and three musketeers, “The Three Amigos”, “My three sons”, “Three’s Company” or you might think three’s a crowd, people usually give you three guesses or three chances and of course three strikes and you’re out.

And in presentation we have what is commonly called “the rule of three.”

Here’s what happens when a presenter breaks the rule of three.

A salesperson was recently presenting to our company the reasons why we should transition to his firm. He talked first about the excellent level of customer service his company could provide, then about their competitive pricing, he then moved on to talk about his firm’s awards, their experience in our vertical, knowledge of our needs…

Most of the audience had mentally disengaged somewhere along the way. But I continued to pay attention, realizing I had a future blog in the making, and I wanted to count exactly how many reasons he was going to give us. We ended up with eleven.

This had a severe negative impact on the salesperson’s presentation because research has shown that the human brain has trouble processing long strings of loosely connected information. What the human brain is much more comfortable managing are chunks of information – to be more specific we like three chunks of information.

If you give your audience more than three reasons to do what you want them to do or more than three key points regarding the case you’re making you are likely giving them too much information to process and remember. With every key point you give beyond three you significantly increase the information overload on your audience and as a result you significantly increase the chance that the audience will simply disengage from your presentation.

You may have a dozen key points that you are convinced your audience needs to be aware of but resist the temptation to tell your audience everything. Instead select just the most powerful and compelling points to present to your audience and never forget the magic power of three.


Want to discuss your next big presentation? Just get in touch.

What if I need notes for my presentation?

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Is your presentation worth delivering?

This happens somewhere every day.The boss says “I want you to take ten minutes at the next meeting and update the team on the big launch project.”As it turns out the “launch project” is on time and on budget so there isn’t much to talk to the … [Continue reading]

The secret to not looking like a nervous speaker

My previous blog was about how to spot a nervous speaker so today’s blog will be about the secret to not looking like a nervous speaker yourself.We’ve all seen speakers impacted by their adrenaline and as a result unable to control certain … [Continue reading]

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The most common PowerPoint mistake of all time

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Joe Torre gives us a tough lesson in public speaking

The day before Joe Torre, former Manager of the New York Yankees, entered the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame he gave baseball fans a little insight into the speech he would be making at his induction ceremony; it would be unprepared and … [Continue reading]

Do these 3 things and you will never lose your audience

I was asked recently what a speaker can do if he feels he has lost the attention of his audience. But I answered the question this way: “What if I could guarantee you that you will never lose the attention of the audience to begin with?”These … [Continue reading]