When U.S. President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this summer what made the biggest news was Trump’s now infamous “would” vs. “wouldn’t” gaff. In the press conference following the meeting, Trump talked about how Putin claimed Russia had not interfered with the 2016 U.S. elections. Trump appeared to agree with the Russian president, saying, “He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Many U.S. citizens and politicians were outraged, understandably, because it sounded as though their President was siding against his own intelligence agencies. But it wasn’t long before Trump backtracked saying that he really meant to say wouldn’t not would. The sentence should have been, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,” Sort of a double negative, Trump “explained.”
But it wasn’t “sort of a double negative.” It was a mistake. And when it comes to speaking in public, even when you’re not the president, you really don’t want to make the kind of mistake that makes you look, to put it bluntly, that stupid!
Of course it’s easy to make a mistake when you’re nervous. Making presentations can be nerve wracking. In fact, according to one Psychology Today article, public speaking even tops fear of death and fear of spiders as the number one phobia. But the way to deal with those nerves and minimize mistakes is to be very well prepared. It doesn’t mean memorizing your presentation. What it does mean though is that you know your material extremely well. (And, should you say the word “would” when you mean the word “wouldn’t,” you’ll be likely to immediately correct your mistake.)
So, maybe Trump just didn’t practice enough. Or possibly his later apology was just (gasp!), a lie. If you don’t want to come across as being unprepared and risk giving a presentation that makes you look bad, do the following: Study, and Practice.
By study I mean you need to inform yourself about your audience. You also need to research your material well. From there you can clearly define the objective of your presentation. Next, outline the presentation and make sure it has a logical flow. Finally, script it fully. However, if you’re more comfortable working from point form, make clear and precise notes.
It’s kind of like the old music joke.
Question: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Just like becoming proficient playing an instrument, presentations really do require practice– and not just in your head. You need to rehearse as though you’re actually making the presentation. In other words, if you’re going to be standing up, practice standing up. If you’re going to be on video, practice on video. Use the movements and the posture you want to use in your actual presentation, when you rehearse.
As I’ve noted before on The Language Lab blog, words truly do have power. So try to use them wisely and well. But take a little comfort from the fact that you are not alone in the struggle to overcome performance anxiety. As comedian, Gerry Seinfeld once put it, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking…This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy!”
In all seriousness though, while making presentations certainly is challenging, the secret to success is actually pretty simple: Don’t wing it! Practice it!
Do you need help with creating strong presentations? Contact me at The Language Lab to learn more about how my Business Communications Coaching Course will teach you how to make great presentations.