When you have a big presentation coming up, do you say to yourself:

“I must be knowledgeable.”
“I must be the expert on this topic.”
“I must be able to answer every question.”

The problem with these statements

The first is the use of the word “must”. This makes them into a demand – something that you must achieve. And demanding that you achieve something is likely to increase your nervousness.

Second, it’s difficult to know when you have achieved them. How do you know when you are knowledgeable enough? After all you can always gather more bits of knowledge. When do you achieve the status of expert? And there’s no way of guaranteeing that somebody won’t ask you a question you can’t answer. You will always have some element of doubt.

If you say these kinds of things to yourself, you may find yourself:

1. Researching far more than you need to before getting down to actually writing your presentation. Therefore you procrastinate on getting started, your prep time gets squeezed, and your actual presentation is not as good as it could be.

2. Staying up late in the days leading up to your presentation, researching the answers to all the questions you could possibly get asked.

What should you do instead?

Here’s what you audience wants – they want to listen to someone who is credible. They don’t want to waste their time listening to someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. But being knowledgeable is only one route to credibility. Credibility and being knowledgeable are not synonymous.

How to be credible?

1. There’s that old saying that you only have to be one page ahead of your audience. I prefer to make it two pages, but the idea is sound, you just have to know a little more than the audience.

2. Be upfront about what you know and what you don’t know. My friend Deb was speaking at a conference for teachers of philosophy. She is not a philosopher and so was having serious issues about her credibility for speaking at the conference. I pointed out that for the particular topic she was speaking on there was no need for her to be a philosopher or even to talk about philosophy. Once she took on this mindshift, she even made some humour from it at the beginning of her presentation “We have three philosophers on our team, I am not one of them.”

3. Scope your topic to make it quite clear what you’re talking about and what you claim expertise in. You can make this as narrow as you like. Western culture reveres specialization and narrow expertise.

4. Talk about your topic from the point of view of your experience of it. Position yourself as an expert on your own experience. There is no one who knows about your experience better than you do.

So make your goal to be credible, rather than to be knowledgeable.

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