I first wrote this post in a state of great excitement when I first saw Susan Boyle singing on Britain’s Got Talent. Three days later, the YouTube video has gone viral round the world and I’ve had time to reflect a little more on what the phenomena of Susan Boyle means to us as presenters.
There are many levels of inspiration that we can draw from Susan’s success. Here’s the main one for me. Susan had a talent that she was held back from expressing. Her looks didn’t fit with what western society expects from a performer. And she spent her life until 2 years ago looking after elderly parents. She wanted to go to drama school, but her father fell sick before she was able to.
Do you have an element of Susan Boyle in you – a hidden strength or talent, that you’ve been held back from expressing? What’s holding you back from following your dreams? For many of us (including me for many years), there’s no practical impediment - it’s just our lack of confidence that holds us back.
In particular, lack of confidence holds us back from taking opportunities to speak in public. Speaking enhances your career. Let Susan Boyle inspire you to never again turn down a speaking opportunity.
If Susan can come from a village in Scotland to sing on a stage in front of thousands of people – and Simon Cowell – what can you do?
Susan Boyle’s performance isn’t just inspiring, there are some very specific presentation lessons we can draw from her performance:
1. You can be nervous and still do a great job
Susan is clearly nervous during the pre-performance chitchat she has to go through. And then we see her get into her groove and see that smile that says “I know I’m nailing this!”
Many of us are most nervous just before and at the start of a presentation. Then you get into it and realise it’s not going to be a complete disaster. And the nervousness dies down.
If this happens to you, you can do a mental trick on yourself. Before you start your presentation, think of what you’ll feel like once you’re five minutes into it (or however long it takes you to get into the groove). Now start your presentation as if you were five minutes in.
2. You can have a mind blank and recover
Susan stalls in answering a question from Simon Cowell – but she didn’t panic – she gave herself a moment to think and the word came to her. You can do the same.
When you have a mind blank, the pressure you put on yourself makes it that much harder to think of the right word. So here’s a strategy that takes the pressure off and gives you an alternative to finding the right word:
1. Convince yourself of this truth “You do not have to get the exact word you are looking for”. If you believe this it will reduce the pressure.
2. Practice your presentation and pretend you have a mind blank – pause, tell yourself you don’t have to get the exact word, take your time to look at your notes, find what’s next and then continue. Practice doing this until you’re comfortable with the silence and moving onto the next bit of your presentation.
Now that you’ve reduced the pressure and have an alternative, the word you want will come to you more easily.
3. She’s been singing since she was 5
Susan has most likely put in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of practice and performance. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argued that successful people (who many of us would view as naturally talented) put in many hours of hard work to achieve their success. He estimated it as 10,000 hours – that’s 3 hours a day every day for 10 years. Susan Boyle probably put in that 10,000 hours. She started singing when she was 12 and she had a regular slot singing at the local pub. She didn’t that good from nowhere. If you want to get good as a presenter, you too, need to put in the hours.
4. A hostile or difficult audience can be turned around
Susan faced a skeptical audience who laughed when she said her dream was to be like Elaine Page. The magic of her voice won the audience over. It won’t be the quality of your voice that wins over your audience – it will be the quality of what you have to say. You too can win an audience over, with a focused, logical and engaging presentation.