How imperfect are you? And will your audience care?

When I first started coaching and speaking professionally, I was obsessed with being perfect – telling my audience everything I knew. If I left something out inadvertently, I would berate myself for being so stupid.

I’ve learned a thing or two since those early days. First of all, less is more. We are all awash with information – so simply cramming yet more data into someone’s head is futile. 

As speakers and presenters, it’s a fair assumption that we know more about our specialist topic – sometimes a lot more – than the audience.

What we absolutely must avoid is simply dumping all our knowledge on that audience – in a misguided attempt to prove our credentials.

Most audiences retain only about 20 per cent of the information delivered by a presenter. Accept that. Develop your speech or presentation so that you clearly identify the essence of your message. Then structure the speech and simplify the language to ensure that the audience clearly gets the point you are striving to make.

People will forget about 80% of what you say. So you’re going to be imperfect, whether you like it or not. Instead, be strategic with the information you want the audience to comprehend – that important 20%. Focus your message, strip away everything that gets in the way of that message. 

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Secondly, accept that to be imperfect is to be human. When you’re imperfect you’re authentic. We all make mistakes. Audiences get it, and won’t judge us if they see we are being true to ourselves and trying to be true to our listeners. They WILL judge us if we try to cover up the mistake or deliver a half-hearted apology.

Third, don’t forget this is the age of the Siri and Alexa. Who hasn’t asked them a question and received an absolutely bizarre reply. I bet neither Siri nor Alexa are losing any sleep over it. 

If robots can be imperfect, so can you. Focus on what you know, deliver it in the best way you can… and sleep soundly at night.

Halina St James, founder of Podium Coaching and creator of TalkitOut

Halina St James takes the worry out of presentations with her Present Like a Pro video training course. It’s available now from the Podium Coaching online store, together with her popular TalkitOut: From Fears to Cheers e-book and workbook.