The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

When Confidence Hides … Presentaphobia!
April 26, 2007, 7:30 am
Filed under: Comment


I am lucky because I am naturally a mouthy, opinionated, loud bastard who enjoys presenting, leading and expressing my point of view.

However I appreciate there are a lot of people out there who find the thought of speaking/presenting in public, one of the scariest things possible.

My mother has often said she would literally die if she had to make a speech in public and she is not alone in that feeling.

The trouble is, fear often manifests itself as ‘keeping deathly quiet’ in meetings – which outsiders can interpret as either being you ‘don’t care’ what’s going on or are ‘worthless’ to their business.  Which is [quite often, ha!] not the case at all.

So how do you get over it?

Well it depends on what you feel is behind the issue … however I thought I’d write about a couple of methods I’ve used to help others get past this bump. [A ‘bump’ that can stop you progressing as far as you should or deserve]

In my [limited] experience, there are 2 key reasons which stop people having the confidence to ‘speak out’ …

Fear of looking stupid

Subliminal intimidation

… and quite often these 2 things are inherently linked.

Do you relate to any of these scenarios?

Scenario 1

You are in a meeting with a bunch of people you regard as bloody geniuses. Immediately you evaluate your own capabilities [or knowledge of a particular area] against there’s and decide you are ‘very poor’.  With this in mind, you spend the whole meeting as quiet as a Church mouse in order to protect yourself from the pre-determined conclusion, that you will look a fool.

Scenario 2

You are in a meeting, again with a bunch of people you regard as clever and knowledgeable about a particular area. You have a question but you are so nervous that you spend ages going over it in your head trying to second-guess whether it is indeed stupid. By the time you come to the decision it is valid, the opportunity has either gone or someone else has asked the question.

Scenario 3

You find yourself surrounded by a bunch of people who all seem to know eachother very, very well. Everyone, except you, seems to share the same viewpoint but you keep quiet because you don’t want to look foolish and think you must be wrong because otherwise someone else would have said something.

Scenario 4

You have the opportunity to present to a bunch of people who are renowned for being ‘tough’. You think of how they could react to what you say and decide its better to let someone else take over.

Any of those ring a bell?

Well if they do, I’d like to offer some little words of advice that I hope – in some way – may help you get over the bump.

 That’s confidence!

Scenario 1

People like being asked questions about them and their thoughts.

So when you have a question to ask, start off with things like, “In your experience, have you ever found …  “ OR “With your knowledge in this field, do you think we could ever see a time where XXX is possible/feasible?” OR “In your opinion, what do you think are the factors behind XXX success or failure?”  

Not only will they feel you are interested in their chosen area of expertise, but the question is inquisitive in nature – rather than making a pragmatic statement – which immediately is less confrontational and more conversational.

Another neat trick is to always relate a question back to something you are deeply familiar with.

I often talk about events involving my parents to to demonstrate a particular issue/feeling/attitude.

Not only does this help others understand/relate to the question you are asking, but you can speak with confidence and warmth because it is something you know is absolutely right.

Scenario 2

If you are scared of asking a question because you aren’t sure if it’s relevant or not – you have 3 choices …

[a] Ask the question and accept you’ll find out whether it is stupid or not almost immediately.

[b] Ask yourself if there is common sense behind your question – does it relate to the conversation / the category / the business / the task. If there is, ask it [it can’t be wrong as there’s sense behind it] and if there isn’t then …

[c] Write down what you want to say, relook at it later, see if you can phrase it in a way that has ‘common sense’ inherent within it and then ask it at a later date/via email.

However one word of advice, when you ask a question … especially if it is a counter-point of view to what else has been said … make sure you phrase it in a non-aggressive way.

No one likes to be told they are wrong or stupid or less informed … so pre-phrase your question with things like, “That’s really interesting, I must admit I have a slightly different experience/viewpoint/opinion … ” it’ll make things calmer, cooler and more free-flowing.

I should point out I am HORRENDOUS at this because I tend to ask people who have said something I disagree with to “Back that up with facts” or “Explain how you came to that conclusion” … but no one wants another me, so stick with the ‘passive aggressive’ method, you’ll get much further, ha!

Scenario 3

This can be very, very daunting … but again … if you have a different point of view the best way to handle it is think of examples that back up your opinion then speak.

The beauty of having examples to back it up is that you are not ‘naked’ and so people cannot accuse you of being totally wrong. Or they shouldn’t unless they’re fuckwits.

I have a simple belief that it is very, very, very hard to be totally wrong in advertising. There are literally tons and tons and tons of RIGHT ways to approach a task – and ultimately the issue is to identify which you feel is the best one to achieve the clients goals interms of money / consumer loyalty / competitive activity etc etc.

And you know what … people who’ve been doing it for years can continually fuck-up.

It happens … we try to not make it happen, but it does … because life is in a constant state of flux and attitudes change – often from day-to-day.

As long as you approach things with the right attitude, put in the hard work, look at issues outside of just your core discipline [distribution / competitive development / cultural changes / media influence], then no one can blame you if the World zigs when you zagged.

Not only that, but it’s never just down to YOU … if it was, you should be getting paid millions … there are many people that make any ‘output’ happen so embrace them, talk to them and work together to achieve the goal.

Scenario 4

One of my old bosses said to me … “Remember they are just human beings too. Be yourself – don’t be who you think they want you to be – and if truly scared, just imagine them sat on the toilet, naked, and as constipated as hell”

Actually this ‘be yourself’ is a big one.

I’ve had many people who are wonderful and warm with friends, then turn into either boring, meek or arrogant individuals when in a business situation.

Of course this is a byproduct of their fear, but personality and charisma is what separates us from the next person – so the fact certain people can quote Business Week magazine or use words like ‘synergise’ doesn’t mean shit – infact my view is that rather than forming a bond between client and individual, it is possibly creating a more competitive atmosphere.


Look I am not saying these are all the answers to the problems of public speaking/presenting … and I am sure there are many other far more professional ways to get over these humps [which probably doesn’t include – as I’m about to do for some of my mob – sending people to ‘acting class’ so they can be more animated and confident in meetings and presentations] … but you need to know you can get over them and you should get over them so if anyone else has any ideas or problems, drop me a line and lets see what we can do to make it abit better for all of us.

If this has been of no use or purely self-indulgent … sorry, my heart was in the right place on this, but I appreciate I can go on and on and on.

31 Comments so far
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fucking great post rob. its stuff like this that makes me love you despite being one of those planner types. 🙂

Comment by andy@cynic

man, reading this reminded me how grateful i am (sometimes) that i’m a loudmouth and never have problem expressing an opinion or participating in a conversation.
shutting the fuck up? well, that’s a whole other matter.

Comment by lauren

You are lucky Lauren because there’s alot of talented folk out there who find this ‘speaking up’ a real issue … which is a nightmare for them because they know it can affect the potential of their career.

Personally I think the key is to ‘swear a lot’ but I might be in the minority in that concept. [Pretty sure you and Andy would agree though!]

PS: Andy … you’re scaring me, but thanks anyway.

Comment by Rob

I concur with Andy….at least his first point. Thanks for this mate.

Love your “be yourself” advice (point #4). And it’s not to be taken lightly. It’s so important on many different levels in life and yet so few in this world seem to have neither the courage nor the ability to do it.

I find it really interesting that humans are the only speices on this planet who continually wants and tries to be someone or something they’re not when the reality is that ‘being ourselves’ is the only thing any of us will ever be able to achieve really, really well.

Comment by fredrik sarnblad

Love this Rob, I’m going to pass it to everyone in the office although at least 2 people will be upset at your new found maturity.

Comment by Pete

Sarcasm switched off.. good.
This is a brilliant, brilliant post. And I reckon being yourself is THE best thing you do in any of these situations.

Comment by NP

Thank you NP – I wanted it to be inkeeping with your ‘back to the basics’ posts … stuff I think is hugely important and valuable, especially to those who want to be paid to think and do!

Comment by Rob

[…] and brilliantly insightful in the blogsphere today, you should vist Rob’s site and read this. I guarrantee it’ll be well worth your while. […]

Pingback by Presentophobia (by Rob) « Fredrik Sarnblad

GREAT post.

I’m also an opinionated sort, so no worries there – but I’ve described this in my ‘arrogance’ post on WAM.

It’s the female English student disease, I tells ya. Not wanting to look like a tit in front of the great and good..

Comment by Will

Ace. Very true, great advice.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

“Female English Student Disease?”

Are you Andy in disguise Will?

Comment by Rob

Nah, but I am an English student (who read Milton, for his sins) that was surrounded by very bright (but very quiet) ladies.

I’m your man for English Renaissance Literature. Boo yah.

Comment by Will

I’ll remember that Will … should come in useful. Maybe. Ha!

Comment by Rob

Pub quiz questions, sometimes. And University Challenge.

Got a stat for you (for Pub quizzes):

The last man to kill someone and get off the charge by showing he could read Latin was the very first Poet Laureate, Ben Jonson. Legend.

Comment by Will

Ben Jonson?

So after that he became a Canadian citizen and used drugs to become a World Record holding sprinter?

Amazing. Some people get all the luck. Ahem.

Comment by Rob


Comment by Will

Ok, Female English Student … At first I thought you were saying they were too scared to open their mouth cause even in this day & age many English Faculties still believe that there is 1 absolute correct interpretation of some dead persons work. But, quiet just because they are female?? BTW, are you the great & good they didn’t want to look like a tit in front of?? 😉

Comment by Jade

That’s fighting talk Jade – we like you on this blog!

Comment by Rob

This is the reason I thanked you on my blog, Rob.

Comment by Age

You’re a good man Age … and not because you just complimented me.

Comment by Rob

Quiet just because they are female? Whilst not wishing to be labelled a misogynist, it’s been my experience that (predominately) the brightest (and quietest) people who did my degree were female.

And no, of course I wasn’t the great and good. I was just a mouthy bastard; one that often talked bollocks, but was rarely called on it by his (more intelligent, in most cases) female colleagues.

So talk more bollocks if you are quiet, regardless of whether you are male or female. It usually works. 😉

Comment by Will

[…] [Tips on how to ask questions without looking evil can be found here] […]

Pingback by ‘Chinese Whisper’ Presenters … « The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Good advice.

I like it when people link back to old posts. For relatively new bloggers, its a seal of quality for something you haven’t seen yet.

Comment by Dave Mortimer

Seal of quality? On here? You know creeping like that doesn’t guarentee you win the next A[P]SOTW assignment, haha!

Comment by Rob

I meant it helps to avoid all the other rubbish 😀

Comment by Dave Mortimer

That’s your story Mr M [jnr] 🙂

Comment by Rob

I love this post, it has definitely help me take a step back and reevaluate the way I approach certain situations. Thanks!

Comment by Shalina

Glad it helped Shalina, and hope you come back and comment soon.

Comment by Rob

Wicked deck Rob. A top read for junior planners! Will give these a go in future meetings. Thanks!

Comment by haaamiiish

[…] Cette présentation sourcée par Jonathan est à porter au crédit de Rob, patron du planning de TBWA Singapour (déjà évoqué ici). Arrivé en Asie depuis quelques années, il s’étonnait et s’agaçait de la timidité de son staff féminin, tétanisé par la prise de parole en public (ce qu’il appelle la presentaphobia). […]

Pingback by How To Be A Bitch But In A Good Way « Notre Lien Quotidien

[…] + Presentaphobia […]

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