When (and When Not) to Say Sorry

One of the most awkward things we witness in presentations is the over-apologetic presenter. Crowds are like wolf packs sometimes, and it’s hard to see a group of people start to turn on a presenter like they’ve just realized he’s vulnerable prey. Nothing triggers the switch so much as an unnecessary apology.

There are plenty of times to say sorry. When the venue or venue’s resources aren’t working out for some reason, a polite apology for the inconvenience is appropriate. When you truly owe the audience an apology for something, you should say it. When you don’t have an answer to a tough question during Q&A time, apologize!

But never—never!—start apologizing for your presentation. If a slide doesn’t transition properly, ignore it. If someone else designed it, and you’re using the deck for the first time, and a slide doesn’t communicate a concept clearly, zip it! If a chart is outdated, don’t apologize!

You should never apologize for something you could have easily addressed by being more thorough, more detailed, preparing more, researching more, etc. Why? Well, first, because it calls their attention to the fact that you sort of phoned it in. Second, it undermines your credibility when, left alone, they might not have even noticed. Last, it makes them feel pity for you, like you lack confidence, and that’s not really what any presenter wants to convey from the podium.

So the gist is this: if you could have controlled the situation, don’t apologize. Just control the situation! If you can’t control the situation, apologize away!

Question: Have you ever felt sorry for a presenter because they apologized too much during their presentation?

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