Earlier this summer, I attended a rather formal event with several speakers slated. As the program began, there was a slight pause, followed by the first speaker suddenly running up on stage.
He apologized profusely for being out of sorts and made some mention of trouble with his microphone. He explained that he was normally much more prepared, much more organized, and always timely.
The apology and stumbling took half a minute before he got underway with the program. It was a bit uncomfortable to watch and an odd start to a formal event.
It could have easily been skipped.
Had he simply walked calmly up on stage and started his presentation, virtually no one would have noticed the pause.
Since this speaker had a recurring role in the program, I kept wondering if the issue was going to come up again. I found myself distracted by the incident and unable to focus on much of what he said later.
Stop Apologizing For No Reason
I’ve seen variations of the above incident hundreds of times.
Often, it sounds something like this:
I apologize in advance if this seems a little disjointed. Someone else was originally supposed to brief these slides with you, and I just received them this morning. So, I’ll do the best I can with the information I have, but I might not be able to answer every question.
When hearing someone like this, I’ve had clients tell me that they start thinking things like:
- This person is wasting my time.
- If it’s such a problem, why wasn’t this rescheduled or cancelled?
- They aren’t taking ownership over the situation.
- How can I get out of here?
- Can I get away with doing work on my phone/tablet while this is going on?
Either way, the audience begins to tune out, physically or mentally. The presenter suddenly looks bad, even if they had nothing to do with the situation.
It’s Not About You
If you’re the person in front of the room then you are the best person available to be talking to this audience.
The audience is there to get value from you. If you’re up there under less than ideal circumstances, then you or someone else already decided that the event still must go on. The people who are there to listen to your message rarely know (or care) about the circumstances leading up to your presentation.
Presenting isn’t about about you. It’s about the audience.
You’d Never Be Fully Prepared, Anyway
Never in history has an individual been fully prepared for a presentation.
Even if it was possible to prepare perfectly, your audience’s situation has inevitably changed since the data and content was assembled.
Of course we should all prepare for our presentations (especially the high visibility ones). However, it’s a business reality in most organizations that you’ll at least occasionally be asked to present something you don’t know as well as you wish.
If you don’t know something, say so and get the answer afterwards.
But please, don’t start by apologizing.
Represent your organization with confidence and professionalism. Over time, everyone will notice that (regardless of what does or doesn’t happen before you start speaking).
A Word of Caution
Don’t skip the apology if you become aware that your organization or you said or did something incorrectly. When there’s actually something to apologize for, by all means do it as quickly as possible and practical.
Just don’t apologize for no reason, when you haven’t even done anything yet.
Your Goal: Start Strong
How can you begin your next presentation with confidence? I welcome your response in the comments section below.