I have done some fire eating and fire breathing in my past. Not a lot, but enough. And before anyone asks, no, there’s no trick. It’s not cold flame, it’s burning paraffin. And if you don’t believe me, see if you’re prepared to put a £50 note into the flame to find out if it catches fire! 😉
There comes a point when, no matter how much you practice with water instead of paraffin you’ve got to take the plunge and use the real thing. Then comes the hard part. At some point you’ve got to set fire to it. Up until the point when you use real fire you’re not a fire eater. You’re a fire eater-wannabe who can gargle foul tasting liquid.
And believe me, it’s big step. It’s easy to put a stick in your mouth, but when that stick is burning every instinct you have screams at you to push it away. But the only way to do it is to do it. You can’t use a stick that only partially on fire or a little bit warm.
So it is with presenting. You can practice all you like but there comes a point when you’ve got to do the equivalent of lighting the paraffin and go live – in front of an audience. And yes, you might get burned but until you do that, you’re not a presenter. You’re a presenter wannabe.
Man up, and risk getting burned. What’s the worst that can happen? It’s not like you’re going to get third degree burns to your lungs and drown in your own bodily fluids horribly and slowly, is it! 😉
I learned to juggle with padded, soft juggling balls. I’m not good at it but I’m okay. I don’t drop things often. Those balls are about the same size and weight as eggs but I can’t juggle eggs? Why not? Because if I drop a juggling ball it doesn’t matter. If I drop a raw egg, it’s messy. Essentially what happens is that because I know dropping an egg is messy the stakes are higher for juggling eggs. And when I know the stakes are higher I get more tense. And tense people make mistakes, more often.
And yet the level of difficulty hasn’t changed.
Making a presentation with an audience isn’t any more difficult than making it without them (well, it is, but not in the big ways). It’s just that the stakes are higher and people – almost everyone – starts to think about the consequences of failure instead of the processes of carrying out their task. The trick, if you can call it a trick, is to think about what you’re doing, not what will result if you do it wrong. (If you must think about the effects of what you’re doing, think of the results of getting it right, not the bad consequences of getting it wrong.) As athletes say ‘keep you head in the game’.
Its hard to learn to drive. You know it is, you’ve probably been there. And one of the reasons it’s hard is because you have to learn it all at once, more or less. Unless you’re one of those lucky people who had access to a simulator you had to master everything at once:
- control of the car’s steering
- acceleration and braking
- using your mirrors
- rules of the road, right of way
- dealing with other cars on the road
- pedestrians and other unexpected things
- lights, indicators, wipers and heaters
Wouldn’t it be easier if you could learn to steer first: then, when you’re confident about that, add accelerating and breaking; once you’re confident about that you can add the gears; and then when you’re in control of your own car go onto the road to learn how to deal with other people in their cars…
Presenting can be a bit like that. Trying to lean everything at once is asking for trouble. Why not use a bit of common sense and first practice speaking without slides… then design something using simple slides. Then think about interactive presentations when you jump around slides in response to audience questions.
And what about adding audio and video? Baby steps, please! And presentations which comprise a live demo of something? Baby steps, please. A presentation which using props? Baby steps. Something entirely driven by the audience? Baby steps… you get the idea.
All too often I see novice presenters trying to do it all, learn to handle gears, mirrors and other drivers all at once, so to speak, by creating a presentation I’d be nervous to try myself without careful consideration even after ten years experience as a professional speaker!
Baby steps, people! 🙂