“What’s going to happen tomorrow? Is everything going to go well?”
You can’t help but think about all that might happen. You lie in bed, tossing and turning because you can’t get the thought out of your head.
The thought that tomorrow, your presentation might not be perfect.
Every book you read, every coach you listened to, every hour that you spent practicing, and you still don’t feel ready.
We all think that way, even the best in the business.
Here’s the interesting part:
Something WILL go wrong tomorrow.
It’s not going to be because you make a huge blunder that ruins everything.
It’s not because you haven’t memorized your content well enough.
It’s not even because you got out of bed late and have to rush to the stage.
It’s because no presentation is perfect, and goes how we want it to.
We don’t have that level of control. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. There are only two things we do know.
- I exist
- I’m getting up on a stage tomorrow
That’s all you know for certain. Everything else is out of your hands.
But don’t let the thought of no presentation being perfect get you down. This is actually a good thing. A perfect presentation requires knowledge of the future, which no one has.
The best presentations are given BECAUSE you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
So why is your presentation not being perfect a good thing? How will that make you confident for tomorrow?
1. You Can Fix Whatever Goes Wrong
There have not been many presentations where mistakes could not be fixed. There have been many presentations where fixing the mistake was better than never making the mistake at all.
Something will not happen as you planned tomorrow. You may not know what it is until it happens. But your mind and body have a great way of adapting to the situation.
If you forget your lines, you think up of new words to say. If a slide deck isn’t working, you make a funny joke. If your demonstration fails, you laugh it off and say that was supposed to happen.
Mistakes are the foundation for a better future. So make the most of what happens, because you definitely will.
2. An Audience Wants A Human On Stage
Have you ever watched a robot do a task? Or watched a robot speak? Take a look at an example:
(In case you didn’t know, the robot is the lady)
It’s amazing that technology has gotten this far. But don’t you feel something strange?
That feeling that something is not natural?
The video is in Japanese but you don’t have to understand Japanese to hear the robot speak. And you don’t have to understand Japanese to feel that something didn’t feel right.
Robots can’t help their unnatural feeling, but humans can.
Humans make mistakes. We have emotions. We have reactions. We move and act without logic or reason at times.
People love seeing that.
It means you’re not a person who’s trying to fake it. You are a speaker who’s giving a real effort to make your presentation a success.
For all your audience knows, the mistakes you make are a part of the presentation. For bigger mistakes, as long as no one is injured or too much time is wasted, people are willing to look past one or two mistakes.
The audience knows the presentation won’t be perfect, that’s why they came to be your audience in the first place.
3. The Audience Gives You Information In Real Time
Speakers think two things.
The audience will remain completely quiet during the presentation.
The audience is going to react at certain moments in the presentation.
One of those is true in every presentation. The problem is, you won’t know which one is true until the audience lets you know.
Your audience lets you know by their reactions, or lack thereof. If you make a joke and no one laughs, that’s a good sign that you weren’t funny, and you may not want to bring out the other jokes.
On the other hand, if you perform a demonstration that surprises your audience, chances are they want you to do another one, or at least explain what happened.
A lot of your confidence when you present comes from the audience themselves. So don’t think that you have to have everything planned out for when your audience should react.
They’ll let you know how they feel. And it’s not some ambiguous signal either.
You will know.
4. You Are Not Likely To Fail
Speakers always think about the worst-case scenario before they speak. This worst case scenario almost always involves a mistake happening and the presentation ending right then and there.
However, this rarely happens.
Unless stumbling over one or two words would result in the death of half the audience, you haven’t made a big mistake. Just keep going.
Look at the speakers on TED.com. Do they make mistakes? Yes they do. But I have yet to see a presentation where a speaker made one mistake and completely stopped talking.
Look at the TED Talk with Memory Banda. She makes mistakes, and doesn’t have the best grammar. But that doesn’t stop her, and her presentation on girls’ rights is still just as effective.
What’s the worst that can happen? If you’re not hurting the audience, even boring the audience to death with terrible jokes is not bad.
A mistake is not nearly as bad as you think. Don’t exaggerate.
5. People Remember A Main Idea, Not The Entire Presentation
If there is one part of the presentation you HAVE to get right, it is the answer to this question:
“If my audience walked away knowing one thing and only one thing, what would it be?”
Everything else is just a nice addition.
Remember why you are going to be up on stage and why you are speaking to your audience. Because through all the mistakes and the words, your audience is going to remember the one point that you repeat throughout the presentation.
You could forget your lines, knock something over and even trip over yourself on stage, but if your audience walked away knowing the change you wanted to bring, I’d still say you did a good job.
At the end of the day, people won’t remember that you forgot your words or that something fell over. They might remember you tripping over yourself. But they will remember what they learned from you more than anything else that day.
That’s the only part you have to get right. Because that’s the only part that matters.
Not how much you made people laugh.
Not how you pulled off an amazing demonstration.
Not by the words you use.
But the idea behind your words.
Now Just Imagine…
That the mistakes you could make were easily fixed by yourself.
That your audience enjoyed seeing you fix those mistakes.
That your audience guided your presentation.
That there was nothing that could stop you from speaking.
That you got your main point across and made it memorable.
Now realize that these are all real possibilities. And they will happen tomorrow.
Whatever happens tomorrow will never happen like you planned. But instead of trying to control everything, picture yourself adapting to the changes. Picture yourself working through the mistakes and giving the audience what they came for.
That is what is going to happen tomorrow.
So go to sleep and worry about how you will get to the speaking venue tomorrow morning. That’s the only thing you have to worry about.
Because tomorrow’s presentation is going to be the best that it can be.
And that is perfect.