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

My previous post was all 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.”
  • “I apologize but this subject is not 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. 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.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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13 Responses to Make no apologies

  1. js says:

    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.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi JS. There is no question about it. In fact, I think that too many people do not say “Sorry” enough in their private lives.


  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. Osmar Jardim says:

    “Never complain and never explain.” – Benjamin Disraeli

  4. Velan says:

    Great post, John! Perfect advice and thanks for sharing it.

  5. Pingback: Make No Apologies! « Rubber Tyres –> Smooth Rides

  6. 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!” 🙂


    • John Zimmer says:

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

  7. Hey John,

    Great minds think alike!! Here’s a post I wrote a couple years ago with very similar advice.

    If only presenters would listen to us!!


    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks, Kathy, for sharing your post. Good to have the message out there as much as possible. Cheers! John

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