There’s a big difference between being prepared versus perfect in our work. Preparation paves the way to presenting with impact. On the other hand, striving for perfection can lead to crippling stage fright, frustration about our performance, and a lack of connection with our audience. In the long run, these perfectionist roadblocks do more harm than good. Here we explore how to be prepared for your presentation, not perfect.
What Is A “Perfect” Presentation?
As a recovering perfectionist myself, I understand the allure of getting everything just right. Early on in my career I lost a lot of time working (and re-working) presentations and communication materials. Sometimes I still catch myself fretting unnecessarily—losing precious hours over minutiae—when the work is already more than good enough.
Over the years I’ve learned some truths about perfection. First, perfection is subjective. Sometimes people appreciate our ideas. Other times they don’t. We can’t control every opinion, belief, or preference of others. This is an impossible task.
Instead, we can control how well we know our audience and set clear communication goals for a presentation. These practices ensure we are adequately prepared to hold our audience’s attention, stick to the allotted agenda, and have ready answers for potentially difficult questions.
Preparation isn’t the same as perfectionism, where we obsess about every single thing that might go wrong. Or memorize an entire script out of fear we may forget what we want to say. Or try to control how we are perceived. Such perfectionist habits shift our focus away from the true value we bring into the world: our unique ideas, skills and qualities.
The reality is, being perfect isn’t necessary. When we show up and put our best ideas forward with conviction, this is more than good enough. Besides, perfection is impossible. It simply doesn’t exist. The way you might define a perfect presentation is different from every other person in the room.
Sometimes there is a fine line between preparation and perfection, especially if you’re someone who strives for excellence. How can we tell the difference? Take a moment to tune into your emotional world. What feelings are present?
When I’m caught in a perfectionist loop, I feel constricted. My breathing shallows. Sometimes I get stomach cramps. Instead of feeling excited about sharing my knowledge, I second-guess every decision. I spend an hour labouring over the same paragraph, or slide, with little additional benefit.
On the flipside, when I focus on being prepared, I feel inspired. I think about the bigger goal and attend to details constructively. It becomes easier to prioritize and get the most important things done, especially when time is limited. Being prepared is not about finding the perfect word or image to convey our ideas. Rather, it’s sharing our knowledge: telling a story, from beginning to end, in the best way we can.
Excellence Versus Perfection
Perfection is unproductive at best, and crippling at worst. When we get stuck on Slide One—trying to make it as beautiful as possible—we lose valuable time that could otherwise be spent creating a memorable story for our audience.
We can’t possibly anticipate all of the unexpected factors that will come our way during a presentation. The best we can do is take charge of the factors within our sphere of control. Set a clear communication objective for the activity. Be clear about the audience you’re addressing: Who are they? Are they supportive, neutral or hostile towards the message you have to convey?
Once you are equipped with your objective and a clear picture of your audience, you will be able to craft a structured set of messages to move them from their current state towards your desired goal. With these pieces in place, you can then rehearse your content and get the messages flowing more comfortably. You can imagine how it feels to deliver this information with confidence.
Your presentation will never go quite the way you expect. A member of the audience may surprise you with a question. You may forget to share a point or two. You’ll probably add in another. When you are prepared and the unexpected comes up, you’ll be ready to respond with confidence. This is where presentation magic happens.