You know what? We tend to take ourselves too seriously when it comes to public speaking. We put the pressure on ourselves to be perfect and all-knowing, but in reality, this is a recipe for disaster. I often hear five common misconceptions about presentations from my workshop attendees that only add to the pressure and discomfort.
The first misconception is that one must know everything about a topic before presenting. Can you imagine how long it would take to prepare a presentation if this were the case? I'm no expert, but I'm guessing about 6 months! That's just impractical. There is far too much information in the world for one person to absorb, let alone regurgitate in a presentation. Instead, consider presenting your unique take or angle on a topic. Frame your presentation as your contribution to the conversation rather than the complete explanation. For instance, you could highlight a crucial aspect of a report that has a profound impact on your department.
The second misconception is that a presenter must share every bit of knowledge they have to provide value to the audience. However, presenting too much information can be overwhelming and make it difficult for the audience to stay engaged. Instead, try to digest the information and share the one key takeaway or action item that you want the audience to remember. Work on rebuilding this idea in their brains and speak to their interests. Remember, it's not about what you know, but how well you can communicate that knowledge.
Another misconception is that pauses in a presentation are bad, and they make the presenter seem unprepared. However, pauses are essential for allowing the audience to process what is being said. If you deliver a rapid-fire presentation with no pauses, there's no room for your audience to think. Instead, try to view pauses as thinking time for both you and your audience. Take a deep breath, relax, and think about the next point you want to make. In other words, aim for "chilled out pauses" rather than "panic pauses."
The fourth misconception is that a presenter cannot make mistakes. This unrealistic expectation only adds to the pressure and anxiety of public speaking. In reality, we all make mistakes, and the key is to recover from them gracefully. Like organisations that have excellent customer service, presenters should focus on getting better at recovering from mistakes. Remember, the audience will have more trust in you if you handle a mistake well. So have the courage to be imperfect and take mistakes in stride.
The fifth and final misconception is that a presenter must know the answer to every question. However, it's okay not to know the answer to a question. Instead of making something up, be honest and say that you don't know. Daniel Pink, a popular author and speaker, once handled a tricky question with grace by simply saying, "I haven't done the research on that. Has anyone else here done the research on that?" No one in the audience knew the answer, and Pink moved on to the next question without flustering or being rude. Remember, honesty is always the best policy.
In conclusion, it's time to let go of the pressure and anxiety that comes with public speaking. Instead of aiming for perfection, focus on providing value to your audience by sharing your unique perspective on a topic. Remember to take pauses, embrace imperfection, and be honest when you don't know the answer. By doing so, you'll become a more confident and effective public speaker.
Mark Westbrook - Presentation Skills Coach