In the first video in my series of public speaking tips videos, I talked about how perfectionism can stop you from getting started in public speaking. But perfectionistic tendencies can do more than that.
The desire to be perfect, to not make a mistake, can increase the fear of public speaking. There is an often-quoted statistic that basically says people are, in general, more afraid of public speaking than dying. I believe this is, in part, due to the belief that when you speak in front of a group of people, you can be horribly humiliated by making a mistake.
This is a really bad way to think about public speaking.
1. Your audience is, for the most part, rooting for you. If you make a mistake, they feel bad for you. They are not looking to cut you down. Just accept you made a mistake and move on with grace. Your audience will go with you.
2. Unless your mistake brings about the fall of civilization as we know it, a blooper on the stage isn’t the end of the world. Get over it.
3. As Seymour Segnit, Founder and President of CTRN, once said, “the anxious energy that often goes into trying to make something absolutely perfect is totally counterproductive.” The more you attempt to be perfect, the more you are likely to make a mistake.
The thing is, good public speakers make mistakes and then move on. I’ve seen speakers who’ve had to deal with broken shoes, technical difficulties and even words not coming to mind. It happens. Each of these speakers acknowledges the blunder, usually with humor, and then move on. They don’t bring undue attention to the goof and they don’t let it derail them from their message.
“If you look at the very best speakers out there,” Segnit said, “those with the most powerful stage presence – say Barack Obama or Tony Robbins – they make mistakes, and they make them all the time – but it makes no difference to their momentum and their message.”
So how do you reduce fear so that you’ll make fewer mistakes? For one, leave perfectionism at the door. Take deep breaths to calm your body down. And, when you step up to give your presentation, act as if you are confident and soon you will be.
Another tip? Be passionate about your topic. There is something about talking about what really floats your boat that helps alleviate anxiety … and makes for a more engaging presentation.