Don’t apologise!

By Katja van Koten

“Never apologize for talent!” Madame Morrible exclaims to Elphaba in Wicked.

Wicked is a musical and prequel to the Wizard of Oz. It is about the profound friendship between Glinda (later known as ‘The Good Witch’) and Elphaba (later known as ‘The Wicked Witch of the West’). They met at Shiz University. There, in front of the headmistress Madame Morrible, Ephaba’s frustration about not being with her sister, manifests itself physically in an explosion. Elphaba apologises, but Madame Morrible wants to hear nothing of it (‘Never apologize…!’). She decides to teach Elphaba sorcery, and so the story began.

Never apologise for talent. It reminds me of one of the best advices I ever received about giving presentations and about being confident ‘on stage’. Don’t apologise when you’re presenting. Period. Why? Because you command the stage. I mean that not in an arrogant way, but in a confident manner. Note the subtle but distinct difference.

I can’t recall how often I hear presenters apologise when they are on stage, and this includes myself. Saying sorry after you stumble over your words. Or what about “just bear with me whilst I’m ….”? Even a sentence that starts with “Let’s hope… (my laptop will work etc.)” sounds apologetic. And the absolute killer “I’m not really prepared”. To all this I simply say: ‘Don’t do it!’

You learn three things when you don’t apologise. First it’s a practice in how to continue calmly and with confidence after a ‘mistake’. Secondly you learn how to keep the momentum. Apologising is always disrupting the story you’re telling. It undermines the authority you have on stage. And last but not least you will realise when you carry on like nothing happened – that the audience usually don’t even notice that you made a ‘mistake’! So why even worry?

I must admit it took me a while before I learnt not to apologise when presenting. And so to remind myself after I saw the wonderful musical Wicked in the West End I bought a t-shirt. The shirt has the memorable words of Madame Morrible on it. “Never apologise for talent! Talent is a gift! And that is my special talent, encouraging talent!”

Let me encourage you not to say sorry, but to be bold, confident and sparkling when you’re presenting!

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