Make no apologies

“It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.”

– P. G. Wodehouse

In a previous post, I wrote about apologies and thanks. Now I am saying “Make no apologies” – what’s going on?

The Parker Brothers classic board game Sorry! is a family favourite in our home. There is nothing quite like drawing the right card at the right time and having the smug satisfaction of knocking your wife or daughters off the board and sending them back to the start while smiling and saying “Sorry”.

It is different when it comes to public speaking. One of the worst things a speaker can do is begin a presentation by apologizing. Like this:

  • “I’m sorry but I didn’t have much time to prepare for this presentation.”
  • “This subject isn’t my area of expertise.”
  • “I’m sorry but I’m not a very good public speaker.”
  • “I apologize if this subject is boring.”

There are others, but you get the point. Inexperienced speakers think that by apologizing for such things, they will ingratiate themselves with their audiences. In fact, such apologies usually have the opposite effect.

If you tell me that you did not have enough time to prepare, I will think that you do not consider my time important. If you tell me that the subject is not your area of expertise, I will wonder why I should listen to you. And if you tell me that the subject is boring, I will probably believe you!

Even if any of the above situations is true, there is no need for you to draw your audience’s attention to them. Unless you are having an extremely bad day, they probably will not be able to tell if you are unprepared or if the subject is not your area of expertise. And if you do happen to be a really bad public speaker – and you are probably not nearly as bad as you might think – well, they’ll find out soon enough anyway! No need to give away the ending.

The best way to avoid feeling obligated to make any of these apologies is to prepare beforehand. Spend the time it takes to get a handle on your material; think of an interesting story or prop that you can use to stimulate audience interest; practice your speech or presentation to get comfortable with it.

Now, I should mention that there might be times when apologizing at the outset is appropriate. For example, if you were driving to the venue and there was a car accident in front of you that delayed your arrival, you should offer an apology that explains why you kept your audience waiting.

As for the other cases mentioned above, don’t do it. Save your “Sorry’s” for the board game.

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  1. Couldn’t agree more! In fact on the handouts for my presentation skills training days I have a page of specific tips – one of which is “Listen to Mary Poppins”. She has a line in the film “Never apologise, never explain!” 🙂

    1. Thanks a lot, Simon. Mary Poppins – not only is she good in elocution, she’s good in execution as well! Who knew? Cheers! John

  2. Thanks for helping the world! Once I gave a speech in one of our Toastmasters meetings. At one point I mentioned three countries, but only remembered two of them. Pretty much like Mr. Oops. I said “Sorry”. I was very lucky to have an experienced Distinguished Toastmaster from Munich do the evaluation. She picked up my “Sorry” and said in a rigorous tone, “Never say ‘Sorry’ on stage!” I never said it again …

  3. I trust one sees a distinction in saying ‘sorry’ in one’s private life. Sometimes a little ‘sorry’ to acknowledge blame can make all the difference in a relationship and it allows it to move forwards. I agree that in a public forum one should not apologise.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International