Visited by Captain Chaos? Resistance is futile


Dealing with the Unexpected? Go with the flow

By Peter Watts

Shit happens.

Two little words that while vaguely profane, sum up most of the misfortunes that befall and befuddle presenters.

I don’t normally advocate dwelling on the nature of what can go wrong, but for the purposes of this post, it would be helpful.

  • The audience could be scarily bigger or depressingly smaller than expected
  • The venue could have a sub-optimal or non-negotiable room layout
  • The main target for your presentation could walk in 15 minutes late or have to leave 15 minutes early
  • And don’t even get me started on what can go wrong with the technology!

Thoroughly plan and prepare your presentation by all means. It’s essential. Only a fool walks onto a stage unprepared. At the same time though, when the circumstances around you unexpectedly change and Captain Chaos flies across the room, be ready to embrace your own inner Captain Chaos and improvise like a pro.

Planning and preparation is a life-jacket not a strait-jacket. When your presentation has to make an emergency landing on water, that life-jacket of preparation acts purely as a buoyancy aid to keep you afloat. You then have a choice; lamely bob up and down in the tide or use the power of free will to pick a new direction in which to paddle.

Stay loose and start paddling and you’ll survive.

One of the best presentations I ever had the privilege to witness was from the Chief Operating Officer of a major multinational brand. Known for his clinically organised and analytically thorough presentations, precision and planning were his watchwords.  And then one day, a minute into a critical presentation, the bulb in the projector popped.

Hotel staff scurried in every direction, but a replacement bulb was nowhere to hand.

The presenter looked at the audience and uttered the same opening words that I used to open this blog. He then delivered one of the best presentations I have ever heard.

This incredibly senior, and incredibly organised gentleman had not been thrown off balance by Captain Chaos, but instead had cheerfully embraced him.

Control-freakery is a form of perfectionism, and perfectionism doesn’t belong in the realm of the presenter. Audiences are human and they respond to human and as we all know, humans are seldom perfect.

When Captain Chaos strikes, it’s your heaven-sent opportunity to shine.

Shit happens. Stay loose. Set a direction and start paddling.

The audience will love you for it.

7 steps to beating presentation procrastination

Seven simple ideas to beat procrastination. Don’t read later. Read now!

by Peter Watts

Procrastination is putting off a task we don’t want to do today, so that it can become a task we want to do even less tomorrow. Creating the opportunity to speak in public for example.

Ask any accomplished presenter and they will say that the sure-fire way to becoming accomplished is to get out there and practice, as often as possible. Presentations seldom seek us out.  To win those opportunities we have to create them, and that’s often a task we feel we can safely shelve for another day.

The first step to beating procrastination is to recognize that WE are the only people standing in the way of making the future happen.

Once that step is taken, here is the plan for beating the procrastination cycle:

  • Break the challenge down into logical tasks; Task one, task two, task three, and so forth. Task one for example, might be creating a list of your possible opportunities to speak. Task two might be building a list of the people you need to contact. Create a road map of those steps, and set out on them one by one. Assign deadlines for when tasks will be accomplished.
  • Starting out on the task can feel like the hardest part. As the Chinese saying goes: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”  Take that first foot-step and you’ll find that the second becomes easier. Movement builds momentum.
  • Seek out a mentor, someone who understands your goals and would be willing to nudge and nag you towards success.
  • Schedule tasks for appropriate times of the day. For example, gathering materials or contact names might be something you can do in low-energy moments after lunch, while creative work is better done while you are fresh in the morning.
  • Set out the tools. I personally procrastinate about building PowerPoint presentations, but if a client wants me to supply one, then my first step is to simply open PowerPoint on my laptop. If I don’t do this, it’s amazing how many other things I’ll be able to find to do instead, such as checking email. Once PowerPoint is open though, I’ve started the task, and design time is more likely to follow.
  • Celebrate your successes along each step. Rewards are a great way to get yourself doing something you don’t want to do. What can you treat yourself to as a reward for getting each task done?

Procrastination is the force that holds us back. Beat procrastination, and wonderful things are free to happen.

Presentation nerves

Nine proven routes to calm and confident presenting

by Peter Watts

Beating presentation nerves can seem like a battle; a no-holds-barred FIGHT to overcome your fears. Bosses and colleagues, like drill sergeants, urge us from the trenches and up onto the no-mans land of the stage.

“You’re team needs you. Get out there soldier!”

This approach is completely wrong.

First point to be aware of: Presentation nerves can never be eliminated, and it would not be desirable to do so. Controlled nervous tension can promote excellence.

Second point to be aware of: The tangible bodily sensations that come with presentation nerves, can be easily managed if we understand the mechanics that create them.

That’s what this article will help you to do. I’m not going to tell you how to beat presentation nerves, because I believe that as a natural bodily reaction we should work with our jitters, not against them. When we focus on beating nerves we just drive them deeper into our psyches. Instead, we can understand them, and adopt simple measures that make presenting a significantly easier process.

Do any of the following affect you when presenting?

  • Tightness of breath
  • Rapid heart-rate
  • Sweating
  • Blushing
  • Cold or clammy hands
  • Trembling
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Nausea
  • Tension headaches
  • Loss of concentration
  • Dry-throat
  • Scratchy voice
  • Low self-esteem

If yes, then within the following articles, you will find practical measures that work with your body to overcome those reactions. Each heading is a link. Simply click on it to review the associated article:

Breathing yourself calm

Sensations associated with presentation nerves are soothed by effective breathing. Find out how controlling your out-breathe lowers your heart rate to control sweating, blushing, trembling, blood-pressure, and nervous tension.

Calming the butterflies

Presentation nerves suppress appetite, so that when we approach a presentation we are more in need of food than we realize. As blood sugars collapse, our concentration collapses with them, and our stomachs develop those familiar butterfly wings.

Find out what to eat, what not to eat, and when to eat, in order to calm presentation butterflies

Dealing with dry mouth

Voice rapidly heading for a croak? Or afraid it might? In this post we solve the dry-mouth issue, and identify the best drinks to keep your voice flowing smoothly.

No sweat

Sweating can be an unpleasant presentation issue, and one we become acutely aware of.  Basic preventative measures help mitigate the problem.

Cold hands

Colds hands are a standard stress response. Find out why this is, and how something as simple as holding a warm cup can be an instant cure.

I think, therefore I am

How to control the messages we give ourselves before a presentation, to ensure we remain calm and in control during the presentation.

Puncturing perfectionism

Preparation is essential for presenting, but when we topple over into perfectionism, we create an impossible mountain to climb. This post discusses how to reduce those mountains back into molehills.

Taking the plunge

The first plunge can be the toughest. The more often you take it though, the easier it becomes. Repetition is the most sure-fire way to becoming a confident presenter.

Coaching yourself after a presentation

What happens after the presentation? How we coach ourselves once the event is finished will set up our confidence for next time. Find out how to be your own personal coach after every presentation.

Fear of public speaking is perfectly natural, and you are not alone in experiencing it. Indeed, some surveys have shown that for many people it isn’t just a fear, but their number one fear, and that’s why becoming a confident and competent public speaker is such a wonderful goal. If you can achieve this goal, then what other goals also become so much more achievable.

I believe public speaking is therefore a gateway activity. Once we prove to ourselves that we can successfully speak in public, we are empowered onwards to achieve so much more.

Enjoy all the articles linked from this blog, and if there are any areas of presentation nerves not dealt with here, that you might like help with, then please do post a comment.

It will be my pleasure to forward you the extra ideas that might help you forward into the highly rewarding world of presenting.

Enjoying the Journey

by Peter Watts

There is a parallel between enjoying presenting and enjoying the Holidays.

Every Christmas I have a melt-down. I enter the festive season resolving “This time I will not be a stress-demon by Christmas Eve.” Unfortunately though, year after year, I find a certain amount of difficulty in measuring up to the goal, and I know I’m not alone!

Why is it so many of us go nuclear the night before Christmas, and why is there a parallel to the world of presenting?

There comes a time when we become responsible for delivering The Holidays. Be it Hanukkah, Christmas, or Eid, we wind-up in that festive hot-seat, and if we’ve been fortunate in life, we’ve been set some pretty high benchmarks by parents and grandparents before us.

Now it’s our turn to create those traditions for new generations, and to honor the examples of the generations who have gone before. It’s a lot to live up to. No wonder we get just that tiny bit stressed!

My partner and I had the baton passed to us some eight years ago, and we’ve had some real festive disasters since! There was the year the tree fell-over during the gift-giving, glass baubles exploding in amongst the presents. And then of course the year that the incredibly elaborate French-inspired Christmas-meal arrived to the table not only cold, but congealed.

Oddly though, our guests keep coming back for Christmas Day, and not just for the comedy value. It would seem that despite our worries to the contrary, we’re doing a pretty good job of hosting the Holidays.

Those examples that we fixate on emulating? Those are examples set by parents who had a good forty years of practice before we took over the traditions. Compared to them, we are of the lowliest novice grade, and while it’s great to have high benchmarks to aspire to, we only get there by experience.

Presenting and the Holidays improve with practice. Every time out, we get that little bit better. The secret is to give ourselves permission to enjoy the journey, and that way, those who accompany us, be they family, friends, or audience, get to enjoy it too!

This Christmas, give yourself permission to “be in the moment”. Enjoy all the wonderful kitsch Holiday chaos that swirls around, and above all, enjoy those with whom you share it.

Wishing you Happy Holidays from The Presenters’ Blog

Pace, precision, and practice

by Peter Watts

Astro frowned. “What’s a time and speed trap?”

“Usually begins with a single step,” West said. “Your first step sets off the trap. Then you have to get in and out before the trap completes its sequence. You need accuracy and speed to get through it. I imagine that as soon as one of us steps on the first stepping-stone, the sequence is set.” 

Matthew Reilly

“The Six Sacred Stones”

A team of treasure hunters face a death maze of trap-activating stepping stones. There is no turning back. All die if but one of them places a foot wrong. What’s more, it’s against the clock; take too long, and those traps activate anyway. Their leader, Jack West, observes “You need accuracy and speed to get through it”.

Standing at the edge of a presentation we have an advantage denied to West and his team – we can practice our moves before we enter. As my colleague Gareth Williams comments in his response to “Puncturing Perfectionism”, pre-presentation practice is an essential.

The secret to successful presentation rehearsal is to run through your presentation out loud, from beginning to end, pausing only to note down the things that work well, and the things that don’t!

In the real world, when something doesn’t work during a presentation delivery, you can’t stop and make repairs mid-journey. You have to keep going. The same discipline is applied to practice sessions. Note down where it was that the road became pot-holed, and then exactly as if the dry-run were a real presentation, keep going!

  • By continuing to your conclusion before making corrections you see the presentation in the big picture and solutions appear naturally

  • You ensure equal practice time is dedicated to the whole presentation and you don’t become bogged down in one section

  • By not over-focussing on one spot, you avoid your wheel digging down into the presentation mud, to leave you frustrated and struck

Run through the presentation twice; once to correct and once to validate the corrections. The more important the presentation, the more times you might want to rehearse it, but do avoid falling into the trap of perfectionism.

Confident presenters show precision and pace

and precision and pace show practice.

Presentation Nerves – Part 1

by Peter Watts

In surveys of what we fear the most, Public Speaking ranks as number one! Fear prevents the discovery that presenting is a reachable skill with many rewards, not least those of challenging self-imposed limits, and beating them!

Nervousness isn’t limited to first-time presenters. Experienced speakers hesitate about presenting to groups outside their comfort zones; maybe to audiences that are larger, or more senior, or that include members of the media.

Feeling nervous about presenting is completely natural. Everybody feels the same way. Nerves are not a barrier; they are a hurdle we overcome and then move beyond.

Consider that when a speaker is going to call on someone to answer a question, audience members will look anywhere but at the speaker…. “Pleeeaaaasssse don’t call on me”.

Even from the anonymous safety of the herd, we mentally adopt the brace position rather than speak in public.

What might this say about how audiences regard presenters?

By being able to stand and speak, when the rest of the room believes they would die in the attempt, could it be that presenters attract support from those watching them?

Audiences want us to succeed; they become part of the adventure. Our success becomes their success, and when we look an audience in the eye we see that support, sustaining us through the presentation.

It’s an idea that can be difficult to accept. “I’ll believe it when I see it”.

The belief that all presenters feel nerves, that fears become friends when properly managed, and that audiences support us through presentations, are things we only discover through practical experience. We see it when we believe it, and to see it, we have to face the fear. Like plunging into the water during a day at the beach, we must face that first chill shock before we discover that not only is the temperature actually quite pleasant, but that the water supports us, and we float!

Presenting is the same. Each time you nerve yourself back into the water, you prove that yes you survive, and that no, a shark does not come and take your leg off!

Whether experienced presenter or novice, understanding the mechanics of presentation nerves and how to work with them is essential knowledge.

Every Monday, throughout February and March, The Presenters’ Blog will share with you how to do exactly that. We’ll detail how you can stretch your limits in comfort, controlling presentation nerves rather than being controlled by them.

Whatever your next challenge as a presenter, you can face it with confidence if you are aware of just a few basic techniques.

Mankind’s unique gift is the power of speech, and public speaking is within the power of us all.

Next Article on Monday February 9th: Breathe Yourself Calm

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:

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