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Don't Be 'Perfect'

The majority of the clients I coach for presentation skills are high-achieving, competitive professionals who focus on the details and want to get things right.

That’s an admirable personal quality, which helps them to produce strong, reliable results.

Unfortunately, when it comes to giving presentations these same leaders often pressure themselves to give the “perfect” presentation. Their quest for “perfection” causes them to become self-conscious, to be concerned that they might miss a point in their outline or fail to answer a question to the letter. 

Working with a group of leaders recently, some expressed the common concern that without notes they might miss some point in their presentation.

Here is what I counsel clients to alleviate their concern and to help steer them away from the pursuit of perfection in their presentations:

People don’t know what you were going to say

It would seem self-evident that the people in the audience don’t know exactly what we will be saying, but when we’re giving a talk we somehow think people have seen a transcript of our presentation. They haven’t. Relax; no one has a checklist to see if you covered every point.

There’s no such thing as “perfect”

You could plan, rehearse and deliver an absolutely awesome presentation, but it still wouldn’t be “perfect.” That’s an unreasonable standard that will never be reached.

As Psychology Today explained, “perfect” is a fluid concept: “The irony, of course, is that while ‘perfect’ may exist as a concept that impels us to keep trying to better our work, any judgment that we've achieved it in any particular instance remains entirely subjective and therefore by definition imperfect. This almost certainly explains why we can judge something perfect one minute and then hopelessly flawed the next without making a single change.”

People don’t want perfect

Today people aren’t looking for perfect. We want real. Being yourself and communicating with authenticity is best. Trying to be perfect will make you stiff and formal. Better for you to say what’s real, to create an experience in the moment, than to be canned and formal.

Pursuit of perfection kills your productivity

The quote attributed to Voltaire is, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, puts it this way: “Instead of pushing yourself to an impossible ‘perfect,’ and therefore getting nowhere, accept ‘good.’ Many things worth doing are worth doing badly.”

Of course, I’m not urging you to deliver a poor presentation. I’m saying, give yourself a break. Don’t focus on delivering the perfect presentation.

Instead, think about serving the needs of your audience – the people who will benefit from your talk – to the best of your ability.

No need to be perfect. Better to be real. Be yourself.