Learning From My Own Mistakes

Well, I may have told all those of you who read this blog regularly that you should always back up your presentations – just in case things go wrong, I discovered something else you should also do. Check your back up copy!

Yesterday, I was doing a class. I had prepared my presentation file the night before. I saved it and went to bed. I did not check that the file had saved correctly, because I had never had a problem with a backup file.

When I tried to open the file I got an error message “The file you are trying to open is not in a recognised format”

No matter what I did I could not open the file. I had to do the class without my presentation file. Not a complete disaster, but certainly an inconvenience.

Remember!!!! Always check that your back up file works. Do not make my mistake.

Overcoming Stage Fright

Stage fright or “podium fear” is probably the one reason people hate doing presentations. It is the reason for all those sleepless nights, loss of appetite and hatred for your boss and or job. But stage fright is nothing new, you are not alone when you experience it. Every presenter, actor, TV star and musician face it every day. Stage fright is what makes your performance brilliant. Stage fright should be embraced and worked with.


However, stage fright in its extreme form can cause you to ‘freeze up’, and when that happens it is not good. So how can you overcome this extreme form of stage fright? Here are a list of strategies that have always helped me and I hope can help you:

1. Arrive early and claim the room

By arriving early, setting up your computer / whiteboard / OHP etc you are becoming familiar with the room. After setting up your computer walk around the room, get a real feel for its dimensions and layout. Part of the problem we have when we present is that we are not familiar with the room in which we are presenting and therefore we naturally feel uncomfortable. By arriving early, and before your audience arrives, you allow yourself time to become familiar with the room and to ‘own’ it. Once you ‘own’ the room it becomes your territory and then you will feel much more comfortable. Imagine how you feel talking to a stranger at your desk or in your office – you do not feel nervous then do you? That is because it is your territory.

2. Prepare and practice

If you do not practice and prepare before hand then you are going to be very nervous. By practicing your presentation, going through it with your slides and not just reading and reading a paper script you will gradually feel more confident. By being confident you will overcome to worst of the nerves. Again, you need to do this with your slides as this gives your practice and rehearsal a more realistic feel and it also prevents you from losing your place in the middle of your presentation.

3. Greet your audience when they arrive

There is a subconscious factor working when you are standing at the door of the presentation room greeting your audience when they arrive. It gives you an air of power and control. It also gives you the chance to see that your audience are not angry monsters wanting to kill you, but nice, friendly people interesting in what you have to say. Hiding away at the back of the room is going to intensify your nerves. Being out there at the door greeting your audience is going to help you forget that you are nervous – after all what is more natural than meeting people?

4. Don’t change your presentation last minute

I still cannot believe that people do this – they spend weeks preparing for a big presentation, they practice many hours and then on the night before or even the morning before they change their presentation. Never do this! Changing your presentation hours before delivering it is going to intensify your fears. Set a cut off of one week before your presentation and then do not change it. You will be tempted to do it, but do not. Once you have your boss’s OK then stick with what you have got and then practice it. If you have practiced the presentation well enough, made no changes you will be confident and your fear will be less intense.

5. Visualise

Olympic athletes, stage actors and musicians all use this trick to enhance their performance. They visualise performing fantastically and winning the gold medal or receiving loud applause. As you are practicing your presentation visualise everything going well – visualise looking at the audience, clicking through your slides seamlessly and answering questions effectively. While most people find it difficult to see how this can work, trust me when I tell you that it really does. It prepares your body and mind and it helps you to perform brilliantly.

I hope these little tips help you when you next do your presentation – try them, they have be tried and tested by many great speakers over the years and they have been proven to work.


Recently, I have been working with a large industrial group that has many different departments working on different parts of their overall business strategy.

In an effort to present their company’s future strategies and goals, they have developed a 20 slide, sixty minute presentation that brings together all the different work that department does and how each department works together to achieve their future plans.

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Unfortunately, the presentation does not work. Why?

Firstly, the writer of the presentation went round each department individually and asked them to prepare slides and a script for the part they each have in the overall strategy. This immediately caused a dysfunctional and disjointed set of slides that had no natural flow or logic. While the writer of the presentation did his or her best to bring each part together in a logical fashion, it failed because there was not a team of people working together to get the presentation right or logical, there was just one person who did not understand any of the work that each department did.

If you are preparing a presentation that focuses on the overall strategies or direction your company is going and there are a number of different departments involved, then the presentation needs to be built with a team of people, ideally one person from each department meeting together to put the presentation together. This way, each department representative can ensure that each point made in the presentation fits logically and seamlessly in the ‘big picture’, and where one person in the team does not understand something, it can be explained properly so that what goes in to the presentation is clear and easy to understand.

Another problem that has occurred, is that the script and the slides are not compatible. What is written on the slide, is not what is being spoken by the presenter. This causes great confusion with the audience.

Finally, the person responsible for the translation of the presentation into English was never involved in the original build of the presentation. This means that the English translation is even further away from the original presentation ‘script’. This essentially renders the whole presentation in English useless.

As a result of this lack of ‘togetherness’ the whole presentation fails. It is full of technical mumbo jumbo, that not even a senior professor at a top university understands and there is no point to the presentation.

To avoid this, it is essential that a team of people are given the responsibility to build the presentation. A representative from each department should be on the team, and if the presentation is to be translated into English, then the translator needs to be in the team. This way, any difficult technical language can be tested by different people to ensure understanding and a clear and consistent message.

Remember, a presentation is not something you build to impress your boss. A presentation is something you build to communicate a message. It is therefore important to make sure that your message is the most important goal, and not the number of slides or the how technical your slides are.

What we can learn from a Formula 1 Pit Crew

I must first confess my love of Formula 1 racing before I begin writing this post. I have been a huge fan of Formula 1 since the early 1990s when Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna were drivers, and I remember the tragic accident in 1994 when Ayrton Senna died.

Photo courtesy of Flickr creative commons - Photo owned by fox2mike

Yesterday saw the opening of the 2010 Formula 1 Grand Prix, and as usual I was sat riveted to my seat watching both the qualifying and the race. While I was watching it I was struck by the awesomeness of the pit crews. (For those of you wondering what a pit crew is – the pit crew are the people responsible for changing the tyres on the car when it comes in for a pit stop) The pit crews involved in yesterday’s Bahrainian Grand Prix, were changing four tyres in less than four seconds! – that is incredible.

But this got me thinking – how do you prepare for such a high pressure event, where just one simple mistake can cost your team a winning race? The simple answer is practice. Pit crews of all the teams involved in the world of Formula 1 practice, practice and practice again until they can do the tyre change with their eyes shut. They even practice for things going wrong. They simulate problems and they work out the best and quickest solutions to these problems, then they practice handling these problems over and over again until they can deal with the problem in the quickest possible time.

When we do a presentation, quite often there is a team of people involved. You may be the presenter, the driver, but behind you are the people who are making the projector work, your computer sing and for large events someone ensuring that your audience are comfortable. These people are your pit crew.

I wonder how many companies involved in giving presentations today, think about the people who are making sure everything works? How many of these companies have their ‘technical’ staff practice for when things go wrong? My guess in pretty much none of them.

And therein lies a problem. In today’s world we need to be well practiced – and that includes you, the presenter, we need to be prepared for anything and we need to know what to do when things go wrong. We need to work together as a team, because quite often when we present to a customer, the prize for success can run into millions of dollars.

So next time you present, make sure that your team is prepared, practiced as much as you, and ready for anything. Not only will you look incredibly professional, but you will dramatically improve you presentation success.