Recently I heard a speaker open his speech by apologizing because he did not know he was supposed to speak. He told the audience he was using material he had used before and had not had time to review it. Then he proceeded to do a fine job with his speech. If he had not apologized, the audience would not have known he was unprepared and would simply have appreciated the fine job he did. The moral of this story: don’t apologize when delivering a speech unless it is something that keeps an audience from understanding you. If you have laryngitis, for example, it is fine to say, “I’m sorry if my voice is hard to understand, but I’ll do the best I can.” Eliminating statements of apology is one of the earliest points you learn when receiving presentations coaching.
Don’t apologize for a lack of preparation. Perhaps you can be effective in spite of a lack of forethought. If that is the case then no harm is done. The moment you apologize you have lost credibility with the audience; you have just told them that they were not important enough to prepare for. Rest assured that if you have not prepared, your audience will figure that out soon enough! When you don’t prepare you may experience the same emotions as a speaker who did not take time to review a script of a speech his speechwriter had completed. The speechwriter had often complained to the speaker about his lack of involvement in his own speeches. At the end of the first page, the script said, “Now I will give you the three most important parts of our proposal.” He turned the page and it was blank except for these words in bold print, “I quit! You are on your own.” Don’t draw attention to your poor judgment because then the audience will pay attention to your lack of preparation instead of looking for a point to take with them from your speech.
Don’t apologize for the poor introduction or the pronunciation of your name or the wrong title in the program. When you do, you are making the person responsible for these things look bad in front of his or her peers. Ignore these elements and move on. Perhaps no one will know the difference if you don’t point it out. Often my name is spelled “Steven” on the printed program, but it would be ridiculous for me to spend valuable speaking time educating the audience on the fact that my name is spelled “Stephen.”
Don’t apologize for not having a better example for evidence. You may not have needed the example because of other evidence that persuaded an audience. Even though you know your example to be mediocre, the audience may think it is fine. If it is a very weak piece of evidence, don’t use it in the first place.
Instead of apologizing when delivering an effective presentation, stress the strong parts of your presentation. This will compensate for any weaknesses that might be noticeable if you call attention to them by apologizing. When not thoroughly prepared, stick with material you feel most comfortable with. When you have a weak example, stress the good testimony and statistics you have found. If there is a problem with the introduction, ignore it and probably no one will know the difference. The word “apologize” should never be used in reference to preparation for a presentation.
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.