What Will They Think Of Me If I Fail?

This question rests in the back of every speaker’s mind before they deliver a presentation. And if it’s not there, you can be sure that disaster is not far away. Having conducted hundreds of speaking engagements, I know that no matter how well prepared you are, there are dozens of possible ways that your presentation can be undone or affected. Here are just a few examples:

  • Delegates eating, intoxicated or drinking alcohol
  • Waiters clearing plates while you’re speaking
  • Poor lighting on speaker (this can be in a number of guises, like a bright floodlight in the face, too dim etc)
  • Light on the screen making visual presentation difficult to see
  • Poor sound quality from microphone, or feedback (any number of ways this can happen)
  • Large audience and no amplification
  • Audience seats uncomfortable
  • Seating configuration inappropriate (round tables or pillars in the room)
  • Access to venue provided late, hence rushed set up
  • Vital equipment missing (extensions, cables or adaptors)
  • PA system arriving late
  • People walking in and out during preserntation.
  • Interruptions
  • Power outage
  • Outside noise like heavy trucks driving past or aircraft taking off nearby
  • Venue near or around a building site

Some of these circumstances are beyond the speaker’s control, and can have a harrowing effect on the speaker’s equilibrium, especially if it is a new presentation resulting in normal levels of anxiety in the speaker. Some occur before, and others during the presentation. The most critical response is to remain calm, and resolve to not let these problems get to you. Be firm in your requirements and do not focus the audience’s attention on the problems you are encountering. Then provide honest, unemotional feedback afterwards.

But some of these potential pitfalls are well within your control., and you need to ensure that you have them covered, by proper planning up front. However, it is more often than not a presenters self imposed fears that create the most pressure.

Your very first obstacle, one which is primarily rooted in fear, is the obsession we humans have with what others think of us. It is an obstacle so huge and powerful that even the most seasoned speakers remain stricken, and sensitive to the opinions of others, particularly when reviewing feedback afterwards.

Assuming you are the world’s best and most engaging speaker, it is likely that approximately 3% of the people that see you will not like at least some aspect of what you say or do. This opinion stems from extensive research of speakers, trainers and presenters which indicates that consistent ratings of over 96% are rare, and 97% or more virtually unheard of. One is thereby released, along with everyone else, from the burden of being perfect.

In most cases, you will be presenting on a topic in which you have expertise, therefore if you have structured your presentation adequately, you are prepared, and you’ve rehearsed a few times, you will already have a good idea of the possibility of success prior to going live.

It is also important to obtain information on the audience you will be addressing, so that you can put your presentation in context – this step applies to both well rehearsed presentations and new ones.

Whether you are using PowerPoint or not, I recommend that you practise with cue cards so as to become familiar with your flow. You can then decide whether or not you need them in the presentation itself. If you do need notes during your live presentation, cue cards look far more professional than struggling with sheets of A4 paper flapping about!

Avoid cramming your presentation with too much information. Rather have a few key points and cover them properly than have too many and have to rush through all of them – this equates to a poor and unconvincing presentation and therefore a waste of everyone’s time, including your own! The perfume principle coined by Coco Chanel applies here – “Less is More!”

Make your presentation interesting and varied. Spending too much time on one point and then not enough on another creates imbalance, especially if you waffle on. In your quest to do well, ask yourself how you would feel, sitting in the audience and listening to you. Try videoing your presentation and playing it back to yourself – you’ll soon have the answer – and some additional practice.

You also need to remind yourself that there will always be someone with a better voice, a more clever structure or even a superior product to you. When a football team wins the league, they seldom do so without losing a few matches along the way. Although the losses hurt, they keep us sharp. Fortunately, this is not a competition.

If your last presentation bombed and you didn’t get the business, there’ll be another day, another audience and another presentation. People get over you quite quickly and move on. You should do the same, but not without learning from the experience and applying your lessons to next time. Releasing yourself from others opinions is a major step towards speaking and presenting confidently. You will get better the more you persevere.

You need to protect your confidence and your resolve to get up and do it again and again. Only this way will you be able to eventually present like a true professional. Is there any other way to go…?

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