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‹ View all articles12th June 2013

Why Perfect is the enemy of Good in Public Speaking


On the face of it, perfectionism can seem like a good thing in public speaking. Having high standards and a strong need for achievement can lead to outstanding work. Who wouldn't want to be a perfect public speaker? But when you look a little closer, you'll see that perfectionism is a curse, not a blessing in public speaking....

"Perfect is the enemy of good" - Voltaire

One of the biggest mistakes I see in aspiring public speakers isn't that they make mistakes, far from it. It's actually that they just those mistakes negatively and insist on trying to be perfect at all times.


Being Perfect isn't Perfect

Perfectionism goes a little something like this:

I'm speaking.
I'm suppose to be good at this, even if I've never done this before.
Everything I do and say, therefore MUST BE PERFECT.

Ok. There a few problems with this very common thought patter...

  1. You can't possibly be perfect in public speaking. It's like saying 'I want to have a perfect conversation'. There are simply too many factors to take into account. Public Speaking is an interaction, not a 1-way monologue.
  2. Perfect is exhausting to even aspire towards and will drag life out of your speaking.
  3. Who said that the audience even want perfection anyway? Some of the most inspiring moments in public speaking come from going off-piste and showing your emotions. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech wasn't perfectly on script; in fact the most famous part of it came from him ad-libbing as he talked.

All this was a big revelation for me, as a recovering perfectionist. It hit home for me when I was working with one of my clients and screwed up with a piece of speaking. Her reaction was, "Oh, thank God Sarah, you're not perfect!" In fact, every time I screwed up (which was quite a lot), she told me that it helped her connect with me and my message more and more.

These days I don't worry about mistakes. And my audiences prefer it that way. Public speaking is not about perfection. It's about communicating. As long as you can communicate your ideas, you can reach your speaking goals. If you are afraid of making even the smallest of mistakes, public speaking will never be pleasurable for you, or for your audience.

Read More about How to Combat Perfectionism in Public Speaking here


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