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Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

“Stop saying sorry!” I know, an unusual thing to ask someone to stop doing, but I was thinking about a recent presentation skills session I had been running.

The delegates were trying some of the techniques we had been working on during the session, and one after another, whenever something went wrong, they muttered “sorry” at every available opportunity.

It got me thinking. Many times you see a speaker, whether at a large conference, or an internal meeting, or a team briefing, and they are full of apologies. “Im sorry, Im a little nervous” , “Bear with me” , “ I haven’t had time to update this slide” .. and so on.

The difficulty I have with these is that they are massively unhelpful to you as a speaker, and they only detract from your audiences enjoyment and appreciation of whatever it is you are there to talk about it.

Lets look at those lines in order:

  • “I’m sorry, Im a little nervous” … the issue now is that you have told us about your nerves. So now we will notice them. Guess what – as you are speaking, you will see that we have noticed your nervous little habits – and that will only get worse for you!
  • “Bear with me” … why? I don’t mean to be cruel, but most of your audience is there because it has to be. Its likely to be job related, and that means we have to listen to you … so lets up the ante a little here, and take a more professional approach.
  • “I haven’t had time to update this slide…” Brilliant! So how much do you rate us as your audience then? Why are you showing us? Is all your work this sloppy? You may not think it matters but if you want to apologise for your work like this, we are all thinking why don’t you rate us more highly.

Ultimately people apologies for reasons of nerves. I get that. But speaking in a presentation or meeting is just another part of the job for most of us. You would not consider apologising or half preparing a sales pitch, the preparation of a report for your Board, or the maintenance on a piece of office furniture. Yet so many of us apologies our way through a presentation.

Prepare more! Apologise less!