For presentations, why worry about preparation in the middle of getting prepared, to the point that we don’t want to attempt to address an audience?
Earlier this week, I presented to chapter leaders of the Community Associations Institute at their annual fall retreat. My topic was “the art & science of influence”, specifically through speaking skills. For this, I tried a new exercise.
I asked folks to silently write down their biggest fear when it comes to speaking in front of an audience. Then, I asked them to write down their biggest strength; what they could depend on in a pinch. I collected responses to each question. Then I read them off one-by-one, but never asking for the author to self-identify. Instead, I asked, by show of hands, how many folks agreed with that as a major fear. The show of hands part didn’t last too long, though.
The problem is confusing preparation with perfection.
For the first question, the most popular answers were “being unprepared” and “saying something stupid”, sometimes both. So much so that it became a running joke: I could have launched into a Carnac bit. For the second question, the most common answer was “preparation”. So, I had a room full of folks worried about preparation yet feeling it was the thing they were best at. Go figure.
We continuously buy into the enduring myth that public speaking is the number #1 fear in life, so much so that even when we feel we’re prepared, we’re worried about being underprepared. Why worry about preparation in the middle of getting prepared, to the point that we don’t want to attempt to address an audience? This goes beyond simple impostor syndrome. This is a poison that distorts our ability to self-evaluate. If it’s a #1 fear, then it’s normal for us to hate speaking in general.
One member of the audience, during a break said “I’m learning so much, but I still don’t really like public speaking or want to do it.” I found this to be a little bit sad, and not just because I teach folks to be more comfortable and conversational in a public setting. “Public speaking” is something we do in some way just about every day. “Preparing” isn’t cramming the night before, it’s the thinking and work you’ve always been doing, months and years in the making. It’s also your ability to take control in any situation.
Not every moment in front of an audience is going to feel great. That’s not the problem. The problem is confusing preparation with perfection. Using an umbrella in a rainstorm doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get wet. It just means you can keep going.
Founder, The Idea Enthusiast. Speaker, Trainer, Facilitator, and writer about all things creative consulting. DC-based consultant to individuals who want to be more creative, teams who want to collaborate without fear, and anyone who wants to deliver the best pitches and presentations.