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How to Avoid Sabotaging your Own Presentations

3 Apr 2009

How to Avoid Sabotaging your Own Presentations

Self-sabotage isn’t something you do on purpose

Dusting a table at the place I was staying, I knocked a sewing needle to the floor. I got down on my hands and knees and cautiously felt around trying to locate it in the carpet. Then the phone rang.

By the time I got off the phone, sometime later, I’d completely forgotten about the needle. Until, that is, I went to get into bed. It pierced my big toe and I dripped a trail of blood all over the carpet!

I didn’t intend to sabotage myself!

No one intends to sabotage themselves. Presenters certainly don’t deliberatively sabotage their presentations, but accidentally they may well do so. Although their self-sabotage may not involve drawing blood, they can easily mess up their presentations, just by the way they think.

Your thoughts are powerful

When you read the paragraph earlier – about the needle piercing my toe – did you make a mental image of that? And did that make you wince – even a little? Yes? Well, that’s the first clue: People who sabotage their presentations make distressing movies in their heads.

Let’s check and see if you’re in danger

Prior to a presentation have you ever imagined any of the following:

  • Everything in your presentation going badly wrong.
  • The audience doing horrible things to you – like jeering and throwing rotting fruit at you.
  • Dropping all your notes and not being able to get them back in order.
  • Tripping or stumbling as you go up to the front of the room.
Completely forgetting what you were going to say?

Or have you ever told yourself things like;

  • “They’ll hate it anyway.”
  • “I’m useless as a presenter.”
  • “What was I thinking of!”
  • “I hope I don’t get nervous!”?
If you do any of those things, you’re well on the way to sabotaging your performance

When you make negative mental images or talk to yourself in unhelpful ways, you programme your mind and your body for the worst-case scenario. The more you rehearse everything that go wrong with your presentation, the more likely it is to happen. You start to get nervous. And when you start to get nervous your imagined horror movies begin running in real life!

Top athletes do the opposite

I’m sure you’re familiar with how top athletes mentally rehearse before engaging in their respective sports. Do you think that before an Olympic performance they visualise everything going wrong? Do rowers visualise the boat sinking? Do hurdlers imagine themselves falling flat on their face? Do divers fantasise about doing belly flops? I don’t think so. Because if they did they’d be nervous wrecks – and miserable failures!

They visualise a great performance

Athletes mentally rehearse how they will row, hurdle or dive with confidence. Through mental rehearsal they visualise every aspect of a perfect performance, thus programming their body to perform optimally.

So how do you programme your mind for the presentation of your life?

Quite simply – you do what top performers do; the opposite of what you’ve been doing. You imagine everything going great. You picture a responsive, smiling and enthusiastic audience, a standing ovation, even.

You say nice things to yourself like, “I’ve got something worthwhile to say.”

“I know what I’m talking about” or, “The audience are going to love this.” Etc. Then you’ll start to notice yourself relaxing and feeling good, – or excited and energised – depending upon what you’re presenting

Feeling good is vital when you’re presenting

When you’re presenting, the way you feel comes across to the audience. If you’re nervous, they sense that and it makes them feel nervous too. The audience don’t want you to make a mistake. If you make a mistake they’ll feel embarrassed. That’s right they’ll feel embarrassed.

They don’t want to feel embarrassed!

Your audience want to feel comfortable and relaxed. So if you want your audience to feel comfortable and relaxed, you first need to show them that you’re comfortable and relaxed. That makes sense doesn’t it?

“But don’t I need to think about what can go wrong so that I can avoid it?”

Yes, you do. This is part of the planning process, making sure that you have everything you need and you know what you’re talking about. But surely you can do this without scaring the living daylights out of yourself, can’t you?


When you take control of what you’re doing in your head, you also take control of how you feel. When you feel relaxed and comfortable, the audience responds to your mood and can also relax and feel comfortable. And when everyone’s relaxed and comfortable, there is no self-sabotage and you make great presentation. And there’s no blood on the carpet.

What would you like to do now?