When I talk to people about their public speaking fears, one of the most common is: “What if what I say is wrong?

Last year I gave a presentation to PhD students at the University of Adelaide and I realised that what I was saying was incorrect, and had been so for the past 16 years!

In my Stand up Speak up and Persuade program I talk about the balance between information and entertainment. How information on its own is not persuasive and we need to balance it with entertainment (how we deliver the message) in order for it to stick.

I was looking at the people in the audience and one woman had a concerned look on her face. I asked the group “Does this make sense, does anyone have any queries?” The woman raised her hand and said that she I didn’t think it applied to her research and I flippantly replied it applies to all areas and even with a eulogy you can make interesting and entertaining!

She then went on to explain that her research was in the area of childhood sexual abuse.

Oh… (insert sound of crickets chirping..)

“Yes” I replied. “You are right. There is no way that you can make that topic entertaining.” I realised then that what I had been saying for the past 16 years was wrong. The word I should have used is ‘engaging’ not entertaining. We are all capable of delivering a highly engaging presentation on any topic, but not every topic is capable of being entertaining.

I have been wrong many times. And hope I have the opportunity to be wrong many times in the future. If you’re being wrong it means you’re stretching yourself. It means you are growing. And yet I see so many people that are scared to give presentations for fear of being wrong.

As Seth Godin says, “the cost of being wrong is less than the cost of doing nothing.”  The only way to not be wrong is to say nothing, do nothing and be nothing.

Having said that, most of us do not intend to be wrong and we should always strive to do our best and check out facts and opinions. If despite your best efforts you do make a mistake, here are some tips for managing the situation.

  1. Explore
    • Get curious, seek to understand 
    • Ask for clarification in order to understand their viewpoint
    • Explain your experience and research in this area
  2. Admit
    • If you know you are wrong, demonstrate your strength of character by admitting it.
    • Say “You’re right I hadn’t considered that viewpoint.” You can then discuss options for moving forward
  3. Correct
    • Go back to the drawing board, do your homework and create new content
    • Send a follow-up email explaining your new viewpoint and the reason for the changes

I know it can be hard and scary. But we need to hear from you – don’t let the fear of being wrong stop you from speaking up.

I’m here to help.

Sharon Ferrier

Sharon Ferrier, through her business ‘Persuasive Presentations’ consults to organisations and individuals who have a need to improve their communication, presentation skills and confidence in public speaking.
Sharon Ferrier

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