When I ask a group of people if they have ever had to talk to an audience about something they didn’t understand or were not convinced about themselves I usually get a lot of nods. Then I ask them how they felt about it. They say things like ‘I felt uncomfortable.’ ‘I felt like a fraud.’ ‘I felt like people were going to challenge me and I wouldn’t be able to respond.’ ‘I was scared I would get found out.’
Perhaps you are a team leader or mid-level manager and you work for a company who has just adopted a new vision and values. You have heard senior management explain it and put a great story around it and now it’s your turn to present it to your team. Suddenly you feel very uncomfortable. How are you going to explain it when you still have lots of questions yourself? Fearing your content can really undermine your confidence.
There are usually two reasons we feel like this.
The most important thing is get prepared. Don’t try to bluff your way through something you don’t understand. If there is a logic behind something that you can’t explain you are likely to come unstuck. If you try to ‘wing it’ the chances are you will hear the faults in your own logic as you speak, and it will make you very uncomfortable.
As well as being well prepared, there are some other things you can do depending on the situation.
Put it in your own words. I personally hate talking to someone else’s PowerPoint, even if I understand the subject. I find it much easier to explain something in a way that makes sense to me. You may not have this option if you are delivering a management message – but at least use your own examples.
Examine your thinking. Are you suffering from “the Imposter Syndrome”? Perhaps you understand as well as anyone, but you have an inner critical saying “who are you to be delivering this message?”
Be honest. Often honesty is best if you are passing on a message. “This is what I heard. I will admit I am still coming to grips with it and I have a lot of questions. I will explain it more when I get more information, so it would be good to find out what questions you have too.” Of course, you will have to follow up or you will lose credibility.
But be prepared to bluff just a little. I know this sounds like a contradiction but not all strategies will be appropriate to all situations! At Toastmasters we practice impromptu speaking so that we can be prepared to talk about anything at all with no time to prepare. Sometimes we just need to sound confident to be convincing and show leadership. This strategy doesn’t work well for a complex message as you will be found out. I would also not recommend it if you are deeply uncomfortable with the message, which takes me to the last point.
Ask yourself whether you are in the right job? This might sound a bit heavy, but if you are in a job where you are consistently having to deliver messages you don’t believe in it could be a signal that your values do not align to the organisation’s values.
Article written by Catherine Syme
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I get huge satisfaction from seeing the relief, pride, and even joy that people experience when they complete a course and reflect on the progress they have made. See what others say for some inspiring stories.