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Fear – the key to a brilliant presentation

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Lucy Kellaway for sharing the story of the excruciating ‘car crash’ speech at her old Oxford College which culminated in the organisers ordering her out of the auditorium – https://www.ft.com/content/b5efc2b2-2667-11e7-a34a-538b4cb30025.

The idea that you can be too confident is not new – we’ve all experienced speakers whose arrogance leads them to disregard or patronise the audience; to do little or no preparation. Kellaway’s crime was different. She did prepare; she did try to tailor her content for the audience and she had good intentions but, crucially, she did so in a state of comfort not ‘fear’.

I’ve done a lot of preparation this week – for a two-hour workshop with 150 bankers, and a two-day training programme for twelve consultants. Both challenging in different ways. And both requiring meticulous planning and rehearsal. I realise now, thanks to Lucy that fear was indeed the driving force behind the many hours of preparation. Much of this time was spent anticipating the ‘emotional landscape’ of the audience; considering how to resonate with them; mapping the journey I was taking them on. Everything was about them. I, merely a conduit for content which I hoped would interest, inform and inspire them! No pressure there, then…..

Putting the audience at the very heart of our preparation is, I believe, the most important factor in creating an effective piece of communication. But it doesn’t come instinctively to us all. We are often in love with our own content; keen to tell others what interests us, rather than what might interest them. Perhaps this was Lucy’s error.

Fear is an emotion most people want to quell. In the context of public speaking, my job is to enable them to do that: to empower them to grow their own confidence and to conquer the anxiety which is holding them back.

In this post-Kellaway-Oxford-Speech-Disaster era though, we’re going to be holding on to a bit of fear – to keep us sharp, to keep us focused and to keep us inside the auditorium.