In presenting terms, this is often the key difference between experience and inexperience. Our initial attempts at speaking to any audience are so focused on content that we focus on little else. Most of us don’t rehearse – it’s too much like hard work, and besides, there’s always one last slide to touch up. Those of us blessed with a healthy dose of vanity (a good thing, I say) will take the trouble to dress well for the occasion, and so you should. The visual impact is important, especially at the beginning while they’re sizing you up. But why are we so slow to realize the critical importance of delivery?
We know when we’ve heard a convincing presentation, a great speech. It flows. It all works. The pace is right, the voice is beautiful and the energy is authentic. We hardly notice the visuals, if any – because they weren’t the point. To the speaker, the audience was. How do we know this? Because we got the message, clearly.
Do we remember everything that was said? No. But we remember the main point, and perhaps a few memorable phrases. We may even take some action on what we’ve learned.
Let’s acknowledge this truth. Everyone who wants to present has to start somewhere, and it’s unlikely to be at the top. So if this point of view appears critical of where you are right now, rather view it as a progress pin. It really takes years to become really, really good at speaking in public. It doesn’t take long to become good if you’re determined – it’s “good to superb” that really takes time. It’s those finishing touches. And while we’re learning it’s very easy to take on an overly critical view of one’s ability and become discouraged.
The scourge of perfectionism is our most brutal enemy. Here is a sound metaphor or two. No champion tennis player wins a match by playing faultlessly, and no golfer ever won a tournament without missing a putt. So why should we feel that giving a perfect presentation is a prerequisite for getting your message across convincingly? It isn’t.
The occasional mistake, perhaps a mistimed phrase or a quip that didn’t work – all fine ( just avoid starting off with a joke that flops – that’s asking for flak!). Were you able to get the crux of your message across? Did the audience enjoy what you had to say? A few giggles maybe? Did they perhaps take action afterwards? And did you feel a connection with them as they listened to you?
A good gauge of your progress as a presenter is how much you’re enjoying yourself on the podium. And you won’t be if you’re trapped inside your own head.
So do it for your audience. Put in the rehearsal up front. Know what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it before you step up. Then have fun. Speak enthusiastically and passionately. Emphasize key words. You may find that the audience will appreciate what you have to say.