What Dolly Parton teaches us about presenting

What Dolly Parton teaches us about presenting

There is one great big unsexy truth about overcoming the fear of presenting. 

This won’t make me popular and nor will it form the basis for a business best seller. In fact, on presenting training courses I look upon it as my Bad Cop moment.

If you want to look effortless, it’s going to take effort.

See – told you? Not really an Inspirational Moment. It’s not going to feature on Instagram with a background of clouds. But tough. Because it’s true.

I know from bitter experience that most people come on training courses wanting the Quick Fix. And nobody leaves my training room without being a humungous amount better than when they walked in (even if I have to lock the doors). But if you want to keep improving, there are no shortcuts.  You’ve got to put in the work.

Name me anyone who is ‘naturally good at presenting’ and I’ll show you someone who puts in the slog of refining and rehearsing. All the people who we think of as great – Steve Jobs, Michelle Obama, nearly everyone on TED talks – didn’t start out that way. 

“Oh but practicing will kill my natural style,” you whine. You mean like all those laidback stand-up comedians you love? Trust me, they’re not winging it. Every joke, every beat has been tried out and tweaked until it does the job of connecting with the audience in the best possible way. They know that unprepared is the best friend of fear. Entering a situation ill-equipped kicks our brain into SAS mode, floods us with adrenaline and redirects our blood supply from the brain to the limbs. If your heart’s going like a piston and you can barely remember your name let alone your key points, you’re setting yourself up to fall flat on your face. Familiarity sends the signal to your brain: we’ve got this.

Dolly Parton once memorably said that “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap” and in the same paradoxical way (stay with me here) it takes a lot of work to appear relaxed. And ‘relaxed presenter’ is your baseline if you want to have an impact on your audience.

Putting in the effort shows respect for the people who’ve turned up to hear you. The best possible version of you, not the one who’s making it up as they go along. You have something to say that’s worth hearing. So in the wise words of Dolly:

“Find out who you are. And do it on purpose.”