Speaking Without Apology

Often I hear speakers open their speeches by apologizing because they did not know they were supposed to speak until the last minute. Sometimes they say they were using material they had used before. Then they may proceed to do an excellent job with their speeches.

If they had not apologized, the audience would not have known they were unprepared and would simply have appreciated the fine presentation. 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 are hoarse, 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! If you draw attention to your poor preparation, then the audience will pay attention to your shortcomings instead of looking for points to take with them from your speech.

When you don’t prepare, you may experience the same emotions as a speaker who did not take time to review the manuscript of a speech his speechwriter had completed. The speechwriter had often complained to the speaker about his lack of involvement and preparation 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 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 at all.

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. Never use the word “apologize” in reference to preparation for your presentation. Just do your best and end with a positive summary and a smile!



Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at steveboyd111@gmail.com.

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