It happens at too many conferences every day. A speaker starts with an apology, and by doing so, sets the wrong tone for their presentation. Apologies destroy your credibility with the audience and put you in the wrong frame of mind, which leads you to not deliver the presentation you had hoped. I see it happen so often that in this article I want to share the three most common apologies I hear and what presenters should do instead.
The first type of apology presenters use is to apologize for their lack of ability presenting. They might say that they are nervous, not prepared, or aren’t very good at speaking. What this does is suggest to the audience that they are in for an uncomfortable experience. The audience has an immediately negative impression of what is going to be presented. If you have been asked to present at a conference and don’t have a lot of experience or comfort, make the time to prepare for the presentation. Plan your message and review it with others who are familiar with the audience and expectations of the conference. Reserve time in your schedule to rehearse your presentation. By rehearsal I mean standing and delivering your presentation in a room that hopefully gives a sense of how the room will be set up at the conference. Rehearse until you are comfortable with the presentation. If you need help planning your presentation, use the RAPIDS approach in my latest book Present It So They Get It.
The second apology I hear is when the presenter says something like, “I am not sure how to follow such a great presentation.” By inviting the audience to negatively compare you to what they have just seen, you predispose them to not like what you will say. This apology is related to the first one because at the root is a lack of confidence that you can be considered an effective presenter. I believe that presentation skills can be learned, it is not something you either have or don’t have. Be confident that you have prepared well and that your message is something the audience wants to hear. One way to be inspired to get better is to watch great presentations that have been delivered at TED conferences. Go to their website at TED.com or watch on one of their mobile apps. TED speakers carefully craft their presentation with the help of top coaches, and you can learn from watching the resulting presentation.
The third apology is one I hear from presenters who speak after me at conferences. The apology goes something like, “I know Dave Paradi is here and I apologize in advance because my slides don’t follow the principles he just spoke about.” It can be an apology for slides, clothes, video, or any other aspect of the presentation. They may refer to an expert who is at the event, or someone who is well known to the audience. By using this apology, you put yourself down and promote the expert instead. If you are following an expert at a conference, don’t mention any differences with the ideas they shared and instead, proceed to do your best. If you know you need help in an aspect of presenting, get the coaching and help you need so you don’t feel embarrassed and apologize to the audience.
If you are tempted to apologize at the start of your presentation, stop yourself. Instead of apologizing, resolve to be better next time and do the best job possible delivering this presentation. If you make a mistake during the presentation, don’t apologize or correct yourself unless it is a factual error. No one will know what was supposed to happen. By apologizing, you diminish the effectiveness of your presentation. Prepare, plan, rehearse, and get the coaching you need to be an effective presenter.
Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don’t overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 3.5 million times and liked over 14,000 times on YouTube.