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.

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