I was at a convention this weekend, and while in the venue’s public bathroom I heard someone say something really familiar:
“I don’t know what I’m going to stay on the panel. I don’t know why I said I’d do this. I’m going to start babbling and everyone there will think I’m an idiot.”
So many people are afraid of “sounding like an idiot.” Smart people, witty people, experts, passionistas – the anxiety around sounding stupid chokes them down and makes them doubt the bigness of their own brilliant brain.
It’s easy to forget that we present because we know something about a topic that the audience doesn’t. Even things that we, the speakers, find simple or introductory is likely completely new information to the audience.
Becoming highly knowledgeable or capable about any one topic or thing takes a lot of time. After we spend the time wrangling with that thing, developing deep knowledge about it, it’s shininess and complexity can wear out and start to seem a bit dull and pedestrian.
The space we’ve got in our heads to absorb and retain information is limited.* Just because you know something doesn’t mean the people listening to you know it. Actually, choosing you as their speaker indicates that they don’t have a lot of knowledge about the subject.
People don’t want to waste their time sitting through talks which they know they’re going to get nothing from.** They want to learn something new, and they picked you to teach them something new because you know something they don’t – even when that thing might seem incredibly basic to you. Research your audience ahead of time, figure out what they want to hear from you, and then trust that the information you are offering is the information they need. I can assure you that if you do that much, you will not sound like an idiot.
*Well, it is for most people, anyway. If you are in that 2% who can absorb and retain info like sponges and then apply it like you were born with that particular skill, know that I am wildly envious and possibly slightly annoyed with you.
**Unless they are jerks or nutcases, in which case you shouldn’t waste your time worrying about them anyway.