Since I started teaching public speaking and presentation nearly three years ago, I’ve taught approximately 1,500 students and seen more than 5,000 presentations. Through my experience teaching students how to overcome their public speaking anxiety and how to succeed in the scary realm that is presentation, I, optimistically, always believe every student has the power to succeed and to give a strong speech. Along the way, however, specific types of students prove me wrong. I now amend my optimism a bit… Most will succeed, but there are four kinds of people who will NEVER succeed at public speaking. Let’s take a closer look at them:
Mr. Too Serious is too cool for school. He can’t shake his “hip” image, and he refuses to do anything that might jeopardize his amazing reputation. He doesn’t want to look foolish, so he is defensive, for the most part, when he presents. If someone asks him a question, he becomes hostile because he feels threatened. Since he takes himself way too seriously, his presentation style appears uptight and arrogant. His audience thinks he is rude because his defense mechanism is to prove to his audience that he is better than them. He is way too serious about protecting his reputation, and because of this, he refuses to put himself out there in any way. He doesn’t try to overcome his nerves through warm-up exercises, tongue twisters, or extra practice with the instructor. He also doesn’t think he needs any help or improvement because he’s so awesome.
Miss Excuse Maker never wants to admit wrongdoing. She has a fixed mindset; instead of seeing learning as a process and failure as an opportunity to get better, she blames others when her presentations go awry. During team presentations, she blames her teammates. It’s their fault she didn’t present well. They’re the failures… not her. During individual presentations, it’s the audience’s fault. They should be quiet, stop looking at her, stop checking their cell phones. They’re the reason she failed.
Miss Excuse Maker has an excuse for everything. If her slides don’t show attribution, it’s because the teacher didn’t tell her how to cite her images. If her delivery isn’t strong, it’s because she’s sick or because her roommate kept her up all night. Every misstep has a reason. Miss Excuse Maker pushes responsibility for her actions on external forces.
Mr. “I’m Just Going To Wing It” wants people to think he’s so amazing that he doesn’t need to prepare. In actuality, he’s just a procrastinator and a fool.
The “Perfect” Presenter has been told her entire life that she’s perfect. Every speech she gives is met with polite applause and “you did great” feedback. Because she doesn’t know anything about public speaking, and because the people around her similarly don’t know anything about the subject, she has an inflated ego. She doesn’t want to learn anything new because, of course, she already knows everything. She doesn’t see a class on public speaking and presentation as a chance to grow and expand a knowledge base; she sees it as a waste of her time.
Now, these four kinds of people could work to be strong presenters, but it will take a lot of time and effort on their part. If these folks don’t work hard to climb out of the depths of presentation abyss, they will never succeed at public speaking.
Mr. Too Serious will have to learn that public speaking isn’t about perfection; in fact, people would like him even more if he showed his humanity. Messing up and then redeeming yourself in front of an audience is a positive thing, a good thing, because it shows your audience you are a human being just like them. Mr. Too Serious must learn that nerves about messing up or looking foolish are just obstacles on the path to successful speaking. We must work to deal with our public speaking fears, our lizard brain, in a constructive way. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. Most importantly, Mr. Too Serious must learn to be comfortable taking a chance. He has to understand that putting himself out there and being vulnerable is an essential part of presentation.
Miss Excuse Maker must learn personal accountability. This is a life lesson, of course, but also a presentation lesson. It is the presenter’s responsibility to craft a strong presentation for his or her audience. You will either “pass” or “fail” with your audience, and they certainly don’t care about your excuses. Did you have a bad morning? Get over it, and deliver a knock-out presentation.
If you refuse to prepare for and practice your speech, you’ll never be successful. Mr. “I’m Just Going To Wing It” will never be successful until he learns that a great presentation requires hours and hours and hours of research, practice, preparation, and rehearsal time.
Last, but not least, Miss Perfect Presenter will never be able to be a strong presenter until she learns the goal of a presentation is not perfection… and that there is actually no such thing as perfection in a speech. She must learn a growth mindset and should study Carol Dweck before attempting to learn about public speaking and presentation.