The Only Time to Apologize as a Speaker is if You Step on Someone’s Foot

Stop apologizing before you’ve even started

(image c/o gratisography)

Never, ever apologize for your public speaking performance, for not being prepared, or for having to lay the ground rules for the audience. Such hollow apologies turn off audiences. They make you seem insecure and make them wonder if they are wasting their time. My rule for public speaking: Only apologize if you step on someone’s foot.

If you feel you must apologize for setting housekeeping rules, let someone else do it — someone who doesn’t feel bad about setting appropriate boundaries for the audience. Though I challenge you to figure out how to make “housekeeping” interesting. It is possible you can figure out a way.

Here’s an example:

“Before we start today, I have to go over some rules. Please return your name badges at the end of the session. If you are late, we will need to start without you. Please turn your cell phones to silence. I’m sorry, just a couple more ground rules and we’ll be finished….”

Ugh! Don’t apologize for setting the ground rules!

How about:

“Please stand if you care about the environment. Put your right hand over your heart. There you will find your name badge. At the end of the evening, please return it to Susie over there by the registration table. [Susie waves.] Notice where your hand was — you just made an oath to return your badge. Thank you for being so easy.”

“Oh. Hold on. Please remain standing. If you want to improve your public speaking skills by the time you leave today, raise your hand. If you have not raised your hand, you are wasting your time being here, so go ahead, raise your hand.”

“One way to make sure that improvement happens is for you to take that hand — go ahead and look at the hand you have in the air — and use it to turn off your cell phone. The next two hours belong to you. Your devices are not allowed to interrupt you during your time.”

Housekeeping does not have to be painful: It can be a part of the experience. Perhaps you are saying to yourself, “But, Christina, that just isn’t my style.” Okay. I’m with you — even though you said but! My response is: Something is your style. Find it. Don’t apologize for it.

Here comes the hammer again. You are communicating to be heard. Way too many speakers are not being heard. In order to change a mind, lead a team or do anything that involves communication, you must first be heard. Only then will you be remembered.

All speakers, including myself, can improve. No more wasting words and time by saying we’re sorry. Rather let’s use our words to create an experience that will be heard and remembered.

Only talk a lot about the things they want to hear, not about “I’m sorry” or housekeeping details.

You have limited time with an audience, don’t waste it apologizing for any part of their experience. Make whatever you must do or whatever randomly happens the best part of the experience.

This post is an edited excerpt from her first book, ‘Your Professionalism is Killing You’, copyright Christina Harbridge.

Behavior change company. Before you can change a mind, sell a product or save the world, you must be heard.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store