It is accepted by many presentation skills practitioners that the fear of making a fool of oneself is central to all other fears. The specific one I wish to address here is mentioned regularly during programmes or lectures that I’ve delivered – the fear of addressing high level business people or “superiors”.
I recall having similar fears when I started out in business. Specifically my fear was selling to older, more established people. A more experienced colleague pointed out to me that emotionally people are very similar regardless of their age, position or status. Generally people have similar needs, and if you are able to fulfill those needs or solve their problems, regardless of your age or status, you are likely to receive a warm reception. To my surprise I found this advice to be accurate. How does this relate to delivering presentations, an activity that rates as “nerve wracking” for so many, regardless of status?
Perhaps surprisingly, audience members usually want you to do a good job. They’ve set aside the time and taken the trouble to hear you present. Presumably they have an interest in the topic you’re addressing which is why they’ve arrived to listen to you – so your task is straight forward: Deliver a presentation worthy of their time. In order to do that, you need to plan well in advance, create a structure flows logically, and rehearse a few times to ensure that you end within the stipulated time without having to rush, and that there is time for a few questions. If you’ve done your job professionally, the chances are good that your audience will appreciate it. Why then is this logic not apparent to so many of us?
Perhaps we imagine that people of higher status or position are aliens. Well they’re not. They are often simply grown up versions of where we are now. Here’s a way of looking at it: 7 times French Open Champion Rafael Nadal didn’t always clobber a tennis ball as sweetly as he does now. When he was a baby his mother probably had to give him his bottle. Between then and now he picked up a set of skills that elevated him to the top of the tennis world. But he had to make his way there, just as you are busy getting somewhere now.
Those higher executive, status folk that we’re afraid of presenting to are much the same. They also started at the bottom. They were once where you are now.
If we can set aside our fears we often find that these are simply genuine people looking for information. If they give you a rough ride, it says more about their insecurities than it does about your presentation. Because you’re presenting does not imply that you’re the world’s number one expert on your topic. So hold your position, do your best, answer the questions you can, and admit when you don’t have the answer. If you can release yourself from the burden of perfection and simply enjoy delivering your presentation, things will more than likely work out just fine!