Yeah, it sounds a little harsh, but it is actually good news.
I came across this card and this website and thought about how much I love the message. Not because of its sarcastic qualities but rather because of how we often think about how others think about us.
(Hm, not sure if that sentence can be easily tracked…)
Let’s try this, are you the type of person who makes a mistake during a presentation and immediately feels like it has ruined the whole message? Do you ever give a successful pitch but obsess on that one time you flubbed an answer? Have you ever apologized to a crowd for some imperfection, only to find them looking bewildered back at you.
That’s because no one really cares. Or rather that people pretty much are only thinking about themselves. When we watch others present or perform we are most interested in three major elements:
1. Whether our time is being respected
2. Whether we have any confidence in where you are taking us
3. Whether this has any direct impact on our lives
Very few people in an audience (except yourself and maybe your boss) will have the objective that you be perfect.
So, what happens when we think that everyone cares about whether we present flawlessly (regardless of whether we accomplish those three goals above)? How do we feel inside and how does that often translate to the outside?
Well, this is often how trying to be perfect while presenting (or acting) can feel:
And this is how it sometimes reads to an audience:
What’s happening to us when we begin to worry about what other people are thinking, especially when we are speaking is that our brains pretty much freeze.
(or maybe explode into flames. I can never be sure.)
To put it another way, rather than being in the flow of the presentation (or the “scene”) we are trying to imagine what other people are seeing and feeling based on our mistake. Unfortunately for us, it is physically and psychically impossible for us to watch ourselves.
The act of trying makes us self-conscious, freaks out our emotional center (hypothalamus to those like me who struggled in Biology class), and causes us to feel flustered.
(Yup. Grossed out yet?)
If you want to know more about the brain piece, I recommend reading John Medina, Oliver Sacks and Daniel Siegel. They are basically the rock stars of brain research. If you know of others, send them along.
How would you act during a mistake if you understood that nobody really cares. All they want are for those three things mentioned before to happen. They will forgive you for all of your mistakes if you handle the mistake with confidence and calm and if you don’t over-apologize.
Please stop apologizing.
Unless you’re willing to apologize like this:
Trust that the audience members are thinking mostly about themselves.
Trust that people want you to succeed.
Trust that no one sees your mistakes as painfully as you do and that the less you think that the audience cares about you being perfect, the more fluid, dynamic and impactful your talk will be.