Puncturing Perfectionism

by Peter Watts

Take a look at the following quote from Nandan Nilekani, head of the software company Infosys. He’s speaking in a 2008 interview for New Yorker magazine about the author Thomas Friedman:

“What I learned from Tom is speed……. I realised, when you have a story to tell you can’t dither over it for years and years – you’re going to be obsolete. That’s why I refer to him as an intellectual entrepreneur: the entrepreneur succeeds because they get an idea and then they move faster than the rest, they bring the product to market.”

When we have something to say, it is born of “Now”. We might have just come up with the solution to a business problem, or a winning sales pitch, or have something important to say on a community matter. Nilekani is pointing out that these ideas are best served fresh.

Delay and they go past their sell-by or get sold by someone else.

So why do many of us often hesitate when given the chance to speak in public?

The reason is often perfectionism. The capable speaker allows themselves to slip into being the panicky perfectionist. We procrastinate, we second-guess ourselves, we despair about every getting everything right, and before we know it, the moment to speak has been lost.

Each time this happens, a divot of hesitation lands in our psyche. Over time these divots grow from molehill to mountain. As each subsequent chance to speak arises, we face a growing divot-mound of past hesitations. Falter again and yet another muddy clod will fly through the air to join the others.

Woody Allen is reputed to have said:

“80% of success is in just showing up.”

This is nowhere truer than of public speaking. Becoming an effective public speaker is a journey 10% learning and 90% practical experience.

Perfectionism halts that journey before it’s even begun.

Next time you have something to say, try to get on up and say it!  It might not initially feel natural or comfortable, but know that next time it will be easier, and every time after that become easier still. Each time you find your voice you smack one of those divots back out onto the fairway where it belongs.

While preparation is good, over-prepping to the point of panic is not.

Sometimes we need to take on the challenge and just do it!

For more ideas on how to control presentation nerves, try the following Presenters’s Blog posts:


  1. Christopher says:

    still love it Peter – very pertinent and also in these tougher times communication to businesses and people/teams is even more important – no idea is a stupid idea – and we need to have the confidence to communicate it and “put it out there !”

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