As a young lawyer I idolized a senior lawyer in our city.
Margaret Nixon was cool and poised. As a speaker she was clear and logical, but still warm and engaging. She got her message across every single time. And did I mention she could also make people laugh! To my eyes she seemed to do all of this effortlessly.
Margaret was the speaker I wanted to be. She epitomized what it meant for me to be a great public speaker.
Margaret Nixon was my embodiment of the “Perfect Presenter”.
Who is your “Perfect Presenter”?
Do you have a Perfect Presenter in your life? It could be someone you know in real life, or someone you’ve seen speak, or a famous TED speaker. Or it could be a composite of many speakers. Maybe your Perfect Presenter is:
Funny like Sir Ken Robinson
Vulnerable and warm like Dr Brene Brown
Can tell stories like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Can get across a serious message in a light-hearted way like Simon Sinek.
The Perfect Presenter never makes a mistake. The Perfect Presenter never suffers from nerves. The Perfect Presenter is never boring.
We wish we were the Perfect Presenter. We hold the Perfect Presenter in our minds as we prepare our presentations, as we walk up to the stage, and as we start speaking. The Perfect Presenter is THE standard to be reached.
And then we get up to speak – and make a mistake within the first few seconds. The Perfect Presenter would never to do that. We condemn ourselves before we even get into our groove
Every time you compare yourself to the Perfect Presenter, you’ll find yourself coming up short. You will never be good enough.
The Perfect Presenter is a myth.
And the Perfect Presenter is our enemy. Because the Myth of the Perfect Presenter stops us from being an imperfect – but effective speaker.
The Perfect Presenter even stops some people from speaking at all. Because they think they can only speak if they measure up to the impossible standards of the Perfect Presenter.
Destroying the Myth of the Perfect Presenter
So how do you undo the damaging impact of the Myth of the Perfect Presenter?
1. Have a Conversation
If your embodiment of the Perfect Presenter is someone you know, open a conversation with them. Ask them about their feelings and thoughts about speaking, what they struggle with as a speaker. Most likely you’ll find they have fears and insecurities just like everyone else. As Mark Twain said: “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.”
2. Online is not reality
If your Perfect Presenter is represented by a TED speaker or other “celebrity speaker” that you have seen online, realize that what you see in an online video is not necessarily representative of reality. Just as women have had to come to terms with the photoshopped illusion of the Perfect Body on magazine covers, realize that online videos are edited. For example, Chris Anderson, curator of TED says in his book “The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking”:
“Many TED speakers use note cards. you may not see them onscreen, but that’s partly because our editors have done a good job of disguising them.”
Similarly, the “ums” and “ahs”, the stumbles and the tangents are often edited out of online videos.
Many online speaker videos propagate the illusion of the Perfect Presenter. They do not represent reality.
What to do instead
1. Compare Yourself to Yourself
Rather than comparing yourself to the Perfect Presenter, compare yourself to your past self. Your goal should be to do a little bit better than you did last time you presented, rather than to attain the state of mythical perfection. Marathon runners are not aiming to come first, they are aiming to do better than they did last time they ran a marathon. Here’s a fun video to prove the point:
2. Choose One Thing
Rather than grasping to achieve the standard of the Perfect Presenter, decide on one thing that you would like to improve about your speaking next time you present. If you’ve never told stories before in your presentations, challenge yourself to include a story. Or if your audience has sometimes been confused in the past, focus on improving the clarity of your message. Just choose one thing.
The Perfect Presenter is the enemy. Stop comparing yourself to the Perfect Presenter. Instead compare yourself to your past self and aim to do a little better than last time.