Don’t fight reality when speaking in public

Many of my clients try to fight or deny the reality of their situation when they have a presentation or important event coming up. And I’ve found, interestingly, that while it’s more for fearful or anxious clients, it’s also common with highly confident clients who lack the time or focus to devote to their talks or presentations.

Fighting your reality plays out in three different timeframes. You may recognise all, or just one of them:

1st: leading up to the event.

You procrastinate and put off preparing your slide deck or notes. In fact you may not give yourself any thinking time at all about what’s coming up (remembering that good presenting and speaking usually involves any degree of thinking time beforehand). 

To give you an example: I had a recent high-level client say to me: “I wing it, Sarah. I’m an optimist!”.

Which did make me laugh! However:

The usual result of procrastinating? Last minute panic and cramming the night before, or on the day. OR you show up, reality hits when you see the pairs of eyes studying you on Teams or in the room…and it goes bad real fast!

Why do we do it? 

Pushing away a deadline can reduce tension in your mind-body system, as you rationalise to yourself by saying something like this: “if I had found more time it would be so much better”.  You might also add something along the lines of “lack of prep time means my audience (if aware of the short timeframe) will cut me some slack.”

This rarely works out in your favour!

These rationalisations (excuses?) are the reasons we give ourselves for a poor(er) performance. Procrastination / perfectionist A-type tendencies often lead to this thinking style. And it may work well for you – up to a point. There will potentially come a moment in your career or life where it’s going to fail you big-time. 

This happened to me in my original music career as a pianist. Natural talent carried me a long way with minimal practice and only last-minute stress. Until it didn’t work anymore.  I still remember the day it happened, and it was many years ago. Being on stage when everything fails you isn’t pretty!

2nd time frame: during your talk or presentation. 

You push away and try and deny the fact that you are in front of the audience.

  • You may go blank or appear completely disconnected. 
  • You may have minimal or no eye contact. 
  • If you have slides you simply talk to them, and turn away from your audience. 

The result is typically a poor experience for you and your audience. 

3rd time frame: after the event. 

If you’re still fighting the reality of what just happened, you’ll be anywhere on the discomfort scale from low-grade uneasiness – where you know you didn’t do as good a job as you could have done – to feeling truly awful about yourself.  And if we can’t reflect both on what we did well and what we can improve for next time, the cycle will simply happen all over again.

Action step

My idea for you is this:

Don’t fight or deny reality in any of these timeframes. By the way, don’t make the mistake of thinking this means becoming negative, and you don’t like being negative. It’s not about being negative, it’s about being real. So:

  1. Accept reality – breathe low and slow and ground your feet. Even at the smallest level this will be an improvement and give you momentary relief. 
  2. Choose to step into the energy that you want. Your goal is to shift into the energy that will allow you to experience both your current situation and make it better next time. 

Choose your energy: Enthusiastic? Focused? Purposeful?

Let’s face it: you’re going through the experience anyway! If pushing reality away in any of these timeframes isn’t working for you it’s worth looking at them and going: “Is there anywhere I can make an improvement here? Even by shifting the dial slightly? 

You’ll have better experiences as a result. And so will your audience. Which is ultimately what matters.

Best wishes with your public speaking and presentations!

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