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by Deborah Grayson Riegel | September 17, 2014


Author and presidential speechwriter James Humes once commented, "Every time you have to speak, you are auditioning for leadership."

Talk about pressure! Let’s face it: if every single time you get ready to share your proposal, pitch, or project with your colleagues, clients or boss you think to yourself, “This is an audition for my professional future, so don’t blow it, dammit!” you’re likely to buckle under the pressure. Or just decide to keep your mouth shut. Either way, you’re not giving yourself the opportunity you need and deserve to share what you know, make a powerful, positive connection with your listeners, and demonstrate to everyone (including yourself!) that you’ve got the chops to do the job you have – and perhaps even the job you want next.


Despite having been a presentation and communication skills coach for over two decades, it’s still pretty nervy of me to try to rewrite the words of a presidential speechwriter – but I’ll do it anyway. What if, rather than telling yourself that every phrase you utter is a tryout for your future, you told yourself that every time you have to speak, you have an opportunity to help someone else? That you hold the missing puzzle pieces to help them see a more complete picture? That you are a “Facilitator of Knowledge” rather than a “Sucker of Speaking”? How might that change things for you?


Here’s more on that mental shift – from victim to victor – and two other surprising strategies that can help you face your next presentation with less stress and more success:


Stop thinking of your audience as your judges. 

You are the holder of valuable information that your audience wants and needs, and that they are enthusiastic, excited and thrilled to have the chance to get it all from you. When you focus less on what this audience can do to you (which is probably very little) and focus more on what you can do for them (which is hopefully a lot), you are much more likely to adopt a posture, tone and attitude that will help you relax and connect.


Don’t prepare too much. 

Of course, you’ll want to prepare yourself enough so that you feel that you know your content well, know what your audience will want to hear most, and speak with some degree of interest and passion. But don’t memorize your presentation, and don’t think that you need to be able to answer every single question that could come up. Be clear about what you should know going into a presentation (cost, timing, feasibility, etc.) as well as what is outside the scope of “need to know” information. If it’s a “nice to know” – meaning helpful information but not mission critical – practice saying, “That’s a great question, and I’ll get back to you by the end of day with that answer.” And then, of course, get back to them by end of day. (One note: “prepare” is not the same as “practice”. Prepare enough, but practice a lot!)


Picture yourself failing.

Of course, if you’re the kind of person who benefits from positive visualization, by all means do that. But I find that making a mental or written list of all of the things that could go wrong is a more helpful approach for me. Imagine that your PowerPoint crashes. How would you handle that? Picture people in your audience being distracted on their cell phones. What will your strategy be? You forget to mention an important point. What will you say? Make your worst nightmares your best planning tool.


Your next big presentation probably won’t make or break your career, but it is an opportunity for you to make a mindset shift about whether public speaking is your worst enemy or your surprisingly powerful professional asset. If you’re willing to get up to speak while your colleagues sit it out, you will likely be seen as successfully auditioning for leadership.


Deborah Grayson Riegel is the CEO and Chief Communication Coach of TalkSupport: Crunch-Time Coaching for Big Presentations and Tricky Conversations. She and her team of experts help busy professionals say what needs to be said with less stress and more success, especially when stakes are high and time is tight. Don’t be left speechless! Visit Deborah online at for additional tips, tools and strategies.


For more tips, download Deborah’s free e-book, 50 Tips to Help you Ace Your Next Big Presentation and Tricky Conversation.