Whenever I talk with someone who struggles with public speaking or presentation, it’s not uncommon to hear that person admit, “When I have to speak, I just want to get through it. I just want to get it over with.” That’s understandable. Speaking and presenting can be highly stressful, especially if you’re inexperienced, untrained or unprepared.
Just getting through it might be one way of coping, but it’s ultimately a self-defeating strategy that will handicap you in the long run. You instinctively know that starting from a place of pessimism and surrender leaves little possibility for doing well.
One consequence of just getting through it is that you rush, and rushing is the archenemy of any speaker. When you rush through your presentation your voice loses energy. You don’t project, people can’t understand you, and you look and sound nervous.
Furthermore, when you rush, you give yourself no time to think. That puts you under a great deal of pressure. It also makes you more prone to mistakes, and those mistakes increase your anxiety even more.
When you tell yourself to just get through it, you isolate yourself. You ignore everyone in the room and just say what you gotta say. You pretend no one will notice or care about your performance, and you know what, given those circumstances, they don’t. They just sit there, feel sorry for you and hope the next speaker is better.
When you adopt the just-get-it-over-with approach, you disconnect from your message. If your only concern is to get through the required information, you say all the words, but there’s no energy, no passion, no concern if your listeners are getting it, let alone being effected by it. So your message falls flat and you might as well have spared yourself the stress of doing it at all.
Wouldn’t it be so much better to give yourself a real chance to succeed? The first step might be to cultivate optimism. Instead of assuming you’ll do a bad job, remind yourself you have the potential to be a good speaker—and you do. If you embrace the belief that you’re a bad speaker, you will be. If you cultivate the conviction that you can be a good speaker, you will be.
Try to be present when you stand in front of the room. Don’t pretend you’re invisible. Feel your feet on the ground. Imagine your energy filling the room. Open yourself to the possibility of engaging your listeners. Don’t wait for them to respond, you go first. Look at them. Smile at them. Talk to them. You’d be surprised at how supportive and receptive they can be.
Stay focused when you speak. Don’t get preoccupied with how nervous you feel or how many mistakes you’re making. That’s so off-target. You have only one job: Get this message to those listeners as effectively as possible. When you maintain a determined focus on your actual task, your feelings—good or bad—become harmless background noise.
Coping behaviors, like getting through it as soon as possible, have a purpose, survival, and sometimes that’s all you can do. But you don’t want to spend your whole life feeling so demoralized about speaking and presenting that your highest expectation is, “Just get it over with.”
You have the potential to be a good speaker. It might take some training, practice and experience, but it’s within your reach. With some basic skills, you can approach each speaking opportunity with realistic optimism. You can be courageously present and tenaciously focused. As a result, you’ll do so much more than just get through it. You’ll be an effective and competent speaker.