TIP: The Top Mistake of public speaking


I mentioned in a previous post that I was really nervous when I presented at the Microsoft Launch last week.

This actually caught me by surprise, because I am usually pretty comfortable presenting in front of groups.

At home that night I was wondering why I had suddenly tensed up. Was it the large crowd (the room was packed – probably more than 300 people)? Unlikely. I've done that before. Was it the fact that I was coming in half way through someone else's session (and thus  wasn't in control)? No, I don't think so – although that is always difficult. Was it because I had come running over from presenting at another event? No, not that either.

No, the reason I got nervous is because I suddenly relapsed into making the fundamental public speaking mistake: I thought it was about me!

Lesson reminder: It's never about you – it's about them.

Some background

Like most people I used to be scared of speaking in public. What if I stuff up? Forget my presentation? A demo doesn't work? etc.

But I remember distinctly the day I lost all fear of pubic speaking. It was when I realised that presenting is not about me, it's about them. That was approximately 3 years ago.

Here's the deal: People are giving up their time and attention to listen to you and gain benefit. It is about them being helped. They want to get maximum benefit from their time, and they are hoping you help them. They actually don't care much about you. You're just some guy (or girl) up the front yabbering away*. They only care about themselves. [But, I might add, with themselves in mind, they are usually on your side, willing you to do well.]

So, the realisation comes, and the nerves go, when you discover you just need to focus on helping your audience. In fact, even if you completely stuff up, forget content, break demos, present with a quivering voice, whatever – if your audience sees you've put in effort, and they feel they've been helped they'll appreciate it. So just focus on them and how you can best help them benefit. That's all.

(Of course, if you haven't bothered to put in any effort – that's a different story – audiences can get a little reticent about that).

So back to the Microsoft launch

Where did I go wrong?

Standing on the side waiting to go on I was fine. But the minute I was introduced and went on I suddenly had a panic attack and worried about me. I fell into the trap of worrying about how well I would speak. What if I stuff up? What if I let Microsoft down? What if I'm not polished enough. All about me.

Instead I should have just made a quick mental check – is what I'm presenting useful and relevant to the audience? If yes, then fine – no nerves.

As it turned out I think the presentation went OK (but I'll be checking with a few honest friends for feedback in the coming days). Fortunately I had prepared thoroughly, and practiced the presentation more than 20 times, so that even in that completely unexpected weird moment, with my mind gone blank, and struggling to breathe, I could get through on autopilot.

Anyway, enough about me – it was a good reminder, and perhaps it might help a few others out there.

Your thoughts

Please leave me a comment with your thoughts, advice or suggestions – I'm keen to hear other's experiences.

* Note that this applies to most people. Some presenters of course get to be so good at speaking that people attend their sessions simply to hear them. And when you are at that point, a post like this one is irrelevant – nerves is not likely to be a problem :-)

Technorati Tags: Public speaking, Nerves, Tip


By Craig Bailey