A matter of confidence

A matter of confidence

Which is worse in presentations and media interviews? Too much confidence or too little?

A dearth of confidence can be catastrophic. Excessive nerves make your audience uncomfortable too, and in extreme cases the speaker can grind to an embarrassing halt, as Alistair Campbell discovered when suffering a hyperventilation-induced panic attack live on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show a year or so ago.

And history’s most toe-curling public-speaking embarrassment was in 1925, when the Duke of York, later to become King George VI, gave a shambolic maiden speech at the British Empire exhibition at Wembley stadium. He had a debilitating stammer and was terrified of speaking in any public setting – let alone in front of 100,000 people. A grainy film shows the audience shuffling awkwardly as the Duke shakily begins to speak … before he grinds to a dreadful, premature halt.  (Colin Firth and co recreate the scene brilliantly in The King’s Speech.)

Yet over-confidence can be just as much of a handicap. When Tony Blair spoke to the annual conference of the Women’s Institute in 2000, he ground to a halt, not because of nerves, but because hundreds of the ladies in the room decided to slow handclap him. He had made the cardinal sin – or his speechwriters had – of not researching the audience properly, and failing to realise that nobody ever should introduce political propaganda, of whatever shade, when speaking to the WI.

And Gerald Ratner got carried away at the annual conference of the Institute of Directors back in the early 1990s. He got a big laugh for describing his company’s jewelry as “crap”, but he paid for it the next day when his words were splashed across the front page of The Sun. The lesson? Research your audience. There were journalists present, and Ratner should have known it.

If the surveys are to be believed, a staggering 75% of us are afraid of public speaking. We fear it even more than death. But the 25% for whom public speaking holds no terror should be careful. Too much confidence can lead to just as many disasters as too little.

Discipline is the key. However experienced you are, take nothing for granted and prepare for every speech, presentation or media interview as though it were your first.

Article date

January 23rd, 2012

Robert Taylor

Media Trainer


My main passion is media training, and I’m proud to be one of the UK’s most experienced and successful trainers in this field.

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