So you think you nailed that high-stakes presentation. But did you really? Here's the best way to know if your speech was a success.
PLACE: The main stage at an industry conference. There's a lectern at center stage, a monitor at floor level angled up for the speaker, a large screen behind the podium, etc.
TIME: The Present.
SITUATION: You've just finished the high-visibility talk you've been looking forward to and also dreading for months. You're just now removing the lapel mic. You recognized the opportunity for your company the minute you were asked to speak at this conference. So you used every minute of those months (it seemed) to prepare. You learned the 6 Rules of Effective Public Speaking, and brushed up on the ways to overcome audience resistance. You carefully wrote, edited, and polished your notes You put together a terrific PowerPoint deck, and practiced so many times you had every word down pat.
Audience members are now surrounding you. They're eagerly asking questions, complimenting you on your talk, and seeking out more information.
And you couldn't be more disgusted with yourself.
You're thinking about all the places you said something slightly different from what you planned. You're sure you skipped something, too—what was it? Could it have been a whole section? But you included every slide . . . didn't you? And you were supposed to leave time for Q & A, and you didn't! You can't help feeling, well, ashamed of yourself.
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Are You Aiming for True Speaking Success?
Without a doubt, you're on a wayward path—aiming for the wrong target if you like. Because there's one sure way to know if your speech or presentation has been a success. And it isn't concerned too much with how you feel afterwards.
That is, you're not the best judge of the outcome. But there are people who are, and they're not very far away. And when it comes to developing your leadership skills, you should be paying attention to them. I'm talking of course, about the people you spoke to.
So why are you doing this to yourself? It's because you're human, that's all. So you're practicing a bit of perfectionizing, which means exactly what it sounds like. No speech is perfect. Even more important—it shouldn't be perfect. Organic, in-the-moment, responsive to your audience in real time . . . those are some of the key components of successful presentations. Perfection simply isn't one of them.
Assuming you know your stuff, did your homework, and prepared a concise, professional, and persuasive presentation, you were probably ready to deliver an excellent speech. Yet it's exactly because you were too focused on those aspects from the past—rather than your performance in the present—that kept you from connecting with the audience in real time. And at bottom, that's what's making you dissatisfied now.
Your Audience's Response Is the One That Matters
It probably has to do with your not knowing the 10 ways to stay fully focused when speaking. Focusing on your content rather than getting it across, in fact, is such a common error that I often find myself discussing it with clients. It's natural to want to get it just right, and to beat ourselves up if we think we've blown our painstakingly prepared speech or presentation.
The truth is, however, that each element doesn't matter that much (though they do need to come together in a synergistic whole). If you left something out, the reason is almost certainly because you put something in that was more appropriate at that moment.
Listen: the audience has no idea what's in your beautifully prepared notes. And why should they care even if they knew? If you've succeeded in reaching and engaging them, and convincing them of why they should listen to your talk, you've done your job!
Each of us as speakers has to learn this tough but essential fact: it's not our response that matters. It's the audience's. Your task as speaker isn't to satisfy yourself that you did a grand job. It's to make your listeners better somehow for having listened to you, so that their time and presence at this event has all been worth it.
If you accomplished that, your speech was a success. By all means, consider after you've finished how you can do a better job next time. That's part of your mandate. But look and listen for the ways audience members are telling you they got something from your talk. There's no mistaking an audience that's on that wavelength.
Feel good when you sense that happened. It's the true measure of your success as a speaker.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in theater-based public speaking training. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method uses performance techniques to help business executives, leadership teams, and professionals embody presence and confidence to achieve true influence. In 2020 for the seventh consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as one of The World's Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was recently named as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time."