It’s Hard to Trust Yourself When a Speech is Near
I recently received this note from a client,
Jezra, I’m presenting tomorrow, but I haven’t had much time to practice, and the person who invited me to speak has suggestions he wants to give me tonight. There’s a lot of pressure and things feel off. Do you have any advice for me?
Here’s what I wrote in response:
Dear Wonderful Client,
I hope it will be helpful to realize that what you are going through is VERY common.
Most of us never feel that we are adequately prepared for a presentation. Even if you had been practicing for an hour a day, I can promise that you would not feel adequately prepared.
And many speakers are deviled by well-meaning conference organizers with “helpful” suggestions for how they should change their content at the last minute. It just seems to go with the territory.
So here is my advice:
I then suggested that my client do these three things:
Step One: Manage Yourself and Others
- Your NUMBER ONE focus before any speech must be on taking care of yourself, and that is particularly true if you’re speaking at a conference. Lack of sleep, too much socializing, fear of not doing your best, unfamiliar food and drink can all contribute to severe disorientation, so trust yourself to know what you need, and prioritize what is best for you at every moment.
- When dealing with whoever invited you to speak, be respectful and vague. Say things like, “I will try to incorporate that,” or “Let me see what I can do about including that perspective.” Don’t argue with their requests (you will get nowhere); don’t point out how absurd it is for them to give you last-minute instructions (they don’t care); and don’t agree to change your speech. Listen respectfully, and then do what you think is best, which will probably be to make very small changes, if any.
Step Two: Trust Yourself
- When you feel off balance before a presentation, DIG DEEP to find trust in yourself and confidence in your professional skills. Remember that your talk is composed of things that you’ve learned while living your life and doing your job. It isn’t some bizarre activity that’s disconnected from everything else; your speech is an extension of things that you think and do every day.
- Don’t get caught up in things like “giving a good speech” or “being an expert” or “impressing the audience,” because those things are all illusions. What’s REAL is that you have interesting things to say to people who want to hear them.
- So give yourself permission to say those interesting things. Not as some theoretically perfect and perfectly-prepared speaker, but as the deserving, thoughtful person that you are right now. Only when you trust yourself will you find the calm you need to enjoy this experience.
Step Three: Follow These Links for Additional Strategies
- As you read your speech, pause frequently to look at someone friendly in your audience, and to re-apply the 4S’s as needed.
- DO NOT TRY TO GET THROUGH YOUR TALK QUICKLY. Instead, do the opposite: Try to slow down and savor the idea that you’re presenting at every given moment.
So there you have it: a few practical tips, a slight attitude adjustment, a little self-preservation, and you’ll be ready to take the stage.
And Last But Not Least…
And as I told my worried client, there’s ultimately just one thing to remember:
You can do this!!