How to be a more resilient presenter

resilient title Presentation

There are going to be days where presentations just bomb. Big time. Not only did it bomb, but the technology didn’t work, your plan B didn’t work, etc. When it rains it pours. This is when your ability to quickly recover and move forward is tested.

The biggest obstical to recovering quickly is rejection. If you fail or make a mistake you can look stupid. That can be looking stupid to audience or the event planner. From there you feel since you feel stupid or you failed in someway that the audience, etc. will rejection you. That fear of rejection can be tough to deal with.

This is because, way back in the caveman days, people gathered in small tribes. If you did something that got you thrown out of the tribe, your chances of survival were a lot lower. So, as a survival mechanism we are naturally afraid of rejection and in turn, crave approval.

However, in our modern society rejection is not a death sentence. It’s not even a big deal. But you have to teach your body and brain that. How would you do that?

The thirty-day rejection challenge

Actually, it is pretty simple. Go on a thirty-day rejection challenge. Jia Jiang in his book “Rejection Proof” did 100 days for good measure, but you don’t need to go that far.

Thirty days is plenty for most people. That is why there so many 30 day challenges all across the Internet. But the number 100 does make a good for a good story.

The point here is that if you get rejected enough times over a variety of things you get used to it. This is the same technique they use to get people over phobias.

Getting use to rejection

finger of blame

In the case of a phobia, they don’t just shove a snake in front of you and hope that you get cured. It doesn’t work that way. Instead, they put a snake in a room and you get to look at it from a distance.

You repeat that a couple of times until you get used to it. You then reduce the distance until you are OK to be right next to the snake. Further baby steps are taken until you can hold the snake with no problem. This is called “systemic desensitization.” Meaning anyone can get used to anything given enough time.

Dealing with rejection can work the same way. You can get used it, so it does not feel like a big deal. So, what should you do? Just be polite and calm. Then ask for something. Usually something slightly unreasonable. Then do that once every day.

The fear here is that you come across big unreasonable jerk. But if you are calm, polite, and do not repetitively insist you will not seem that way. Try it.

I start off by writing a list. It can start with asking for a discount at Starbucks ending in asking a stranger for money to invest in your new startup. It doesn’t really matter what you pick. Just be nice.

Asking to present if your a begininer

Let’s look at a couple of realistic examples in the world of work. One would be volunteering to be a presenter. That is proactive and there is no way you would come off as a jerk. Also, instead of waiting for the boss to assign you, you volunteer. That will give you more leeway to do what you want.

However, you might have the scary image of “Me? I have no experience. I’m going to let Sally do it. She knows what she’s doing. I couldn’t present a way out of a paper bag.”

Of course, it might be scary to be laughed out of the room by your boss and also have to deliver the presentation but is worth a brave shot. Remember if you have kept your courage journal you should have a record of all the small courageous things you have done.

You Don`t Need Confidence For A Good Presentation
You Don`t Need Confidence For A Good Presentation
A common phrase that I hear is that if I had more confidence I would give that s.....

A side benefit of asking is that the boss may say yes. Then you get the opportunity to improve your presenting skills, get on the boss’s good side for asking advice, etc. You might do a horrible job, but at the very least you will have learned something. Not a single Tour de France winner has not fallen off his bicycle when he was a kid. You got to start somewhere.

Asking for a higher fee

Another practice at rejection is asking for a fee or a high one. This something that one person that I knew tried right away. He didn’t want to give a speech. In fact, he was deathly afraid. He also had a speech problem that made it extra scary for him.

So, when a certain commercial group asks him to speak he gave them what he thought was a ridiculously high price. They thought it over for a day and phoned him back to say that they would pay for that as well as the travel expenses. Well, that blew him away.

You never hit any the ball that you don’t swing at. So, doesn’t hurt to make a high offer. Even if it is laughed off, you can use it as an anchoring point for something better than what you initially hoped.

Two other alternatives to increasing your resilience

on stage

Still, for some going through a deliberate rejection diet, can be a little too tough. But, building resilience requires you to experience some pain, survive that, and get tougher. But here are some other alternatives that you can also try to improve your resilience.

General acceptance

The first one is acceptance. When we take chances and even when we make decisions that seem good at the time, things can go wrong. Sometimes the odds don’t work out. Even for a 9 times out 10 situation, there always is the chance to pull that 1 out of 10.

It is natural to feel very negative about that. Many people beat themselves up or give pity parties if something goes wrong. But, that will not make you stronger nor fix the mistake.

Let’s say that you were delivering a presentation on a new service. You thought you did a bang-up job of preparation and felt that you would convince all the key players that yours was the best.

You go and give the presentation and a senior executive asks a very pointed question that you have no quick answer for. Maybe your case study was a bit of a stretch, or may it was hard to guarantee something that they requested.

Avoid self-recrimination

After it is over you slump in your chair and beat yourself up for lack of preparation. If only you had done more. We can always do more, always do it quicker, etc. But arguments in hindsight do not solve the immediate problem.

In any case, as mentioned in the post about self-image, if you continue to replay that scene in your head and continue to beat yourself up about it, quite likely you will go into the next presentation with less confidence and also less control of your presentation skills. Instead of doing that you need to work on accepting that was the best you could do at the time.

Great Self-Image Making For Speaking
Great Self-Image Making For Speaking
I talked in a previous blog article that having courage not confidence is the mo.....

We are all emotional creatures, so doing all this in your head is going to be a tough thing to do. Especially, since there is a fine line between acceptance and excuses. There is also a fine line between facing reality and beating yourself up. The difference is mostly about how much and what you do about it. I recommended that you put this all on paper.

Putting it on paper

The first thing would be to admit you made a mistake on paper. For example, you did not prepare for all questions the client was going to ask and thus lost the sale. Emotionally you may feel conflicted about this.

On the one side, some people may feel that there may be other people involved who are also responsible. Maybe there is an evil boss who put so much work on your plate that you couldn’t have time to prepare properly. I see that. But, you could have ask the boss about time and priorities. A solution could have been found then.

On the other hand, if you really had no time to think of all the possible questions the client could have asked, there is no point in beating yourself up about it. Repeatable thinking “If only I had more time…” doesn’t change the failure and will not prevent it.

It just makes you feel bad and become more fearful about giving the next presentation. If there was no realistic way to get around the problem at the time, it is better that you accept that. That was you then and that was the best you could do at the time.

Questions to ask

I would practice asking these questions first on paper. Consider:

  • “What happened?”
  • “Were there any alternatives that you considered?”
  • “What were the constraints?”
  • “Were these real constraints or just assumed ones?”
  • “If the same circumstances occurred again, would you do anything differently?”
  • “Would there be a different result if you did so?”

The next step would be to consider if there is something you can do to make the situation better or prevent it from occurring again. The point here is to focus on working out a solution.

Coming up with future solutions

You now know a new question that needs answering and you can deal with answering it in case a similar question comes up again. Maybe you can ever come up with a FAQ or a script to use as a reference later.

Or if there is still time you can follow up on your mistake to make it right. By considering these things you have accepted that what happened, happened, and now moving forward by working on a better solution.

Practicing acceptance when you are presenting

But there will be a time when you have to practice acceptance in the moment. During a presentation, there is no time to beat yourself up when the presentation is going badly. It can also be hard to consider positive steps to deal with the situation when you don’t know how to really fix it at the time.

For example, there was a presentation that I could see before my very eyes that I was losing the audience. People were getting bored and phasing out. I had no idea why, but I knew I was screwing up totally.

I had to accept that reality. It is at this point that I could have beaten myself up about not making it more interesting for the audience. But I had enough self-awareness to know that certainly was not going to turn the audience around.

Instead, I thought that there is nothing I know now on how to change this. I guess I’m just going to have to go through it and figure it out later.

I knew there was some reason I was boring people, so I cut my presentation a bit short. This was ok for the event planner and gave everyone a short break. That gave everyone breathing room and helped make it easier for the next person to break the ice.

Sometimes whether the show is all that good or not, the show must go on. As speakers and presenters, we do have commitments to fulfill. So, do the best you can with what you have. We all need to learn to accept that. It takes practice, and as they say practice makes perfect.

For some people building acceptance for your mistakes can be hard if you have a low self-image. That is why I do recommend working on improving your self-image first. It is a cornerstone for building resilience. Which is one of the reasons why resilience is last in this chapter. You need all the previous skills mentioned to effectively build resilience.

Reminding yourself of your greater goal

small wins

One last thing in building resilience is reminding yourself of your greater goal. You are most likely not presenting because you like the sound of your voice. I suppose there people like that out there, but most likely they are not reading this. For a vast majority of presenters, you are delivering a presentation for a reason. Usually a good one.

Now you might say, but wait I am a salesperson. I don’t like my product. I hate my boss, my company, even some of my clients. What possible greater goal could I have?

What if you feel like you don’t have one?

I understand that. But then let’s consider this. Do you want to stay with the company forever? Probably not. But, most likely, you don’t have the skill or the guts to quit yet otherwise you would have done so.

So, the next step would be to consider your future. Could you imagine yourself more successful and confident in your skills that you could land a job with a better company and a better product? I think you can. But you’ve got to work to get there.

It is probably much more preferable to be the entrepreneur with the fire in the eyes and an inspiration to change the world. However, most of us are not like that. Probably too many are like the salesman just doing their job.

The fiery entrepreneur would have the greater goal to get over the rejections, the embarrassment, and the long hours. The tired salesman has to figure out what goal is and move his emotions to motivate himself in the direction he wants to go.

So, I believe that everyone can build a greater goal for themselves. That goal may even change over time. But, it should be big enough and worthy enough that when you fail that you will dig inside yourself and plow through.

I feel that of the three things mention here that this one is the most important. But, for some, it can be one of the hardest. It can take time to figure out. So, try the other two while you are working on this.


There are a lot of sub-skills that are needed to reduce performance anxiety. In addition to building resilance you also need to consider courage, self-image, energy control, and focus.

In fact, one the biggest reasons for not being to properly implement all the wonderful knowledge on presentation are the mental blocks. These are the things that either we put on ourselves or where somehow educated into us.

By working through those five skills and the three techniques that I have addressed here you will be able to get to the starting line each time and be able to practice without the constant weight of fear and self-doubt.

If you are interested in learning more about those five skills and other tips on public speaking, etc. please continue looking at other articles on this site. If you have questions, comments, etc. Please leave those feel free. Also if you have a need for more specific help on presentations, debate, etc., please feel free to contact me here.

Matthew Ownby

Previously worked at NASA, Cisco Japan, and other large IT Corporation. Spent more than 15 years training businessmen and women to be better presenters. Good enough at Japanese help native Japanese speakers win speaking contests. Was fortunate enough to give a TEDx Talk in Kyoto also in Japanese ;). Also aims to build the toughest communication contest ever. That will not only include being good at business presentation skills, but debate, meeting facilitation, negotiation, coaching, and more. Also runs an online communication dojo where the focus is on practical skill application not listening to a sage on a stage.

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