No Apology Necessary

Linus_Torvalds

I have a confession to make: I am a nerd. I write code, and void my warranties, and prod and poke, and hack and slash. And I enjoy being a real geek. Part of my geekiness includes watching presentations on technologies; an activity that I was engaged in just this morning.

I was watching a Google Tech Talk presented by Linus Torvalds, the creator and maintainer of the Linux Kernel (the foundation for a range of open-source operating systems and technologies). Linus is a tremendously important and influential person. Perhaps one of the most influential people in the world. He was talking to a large room of developers about a piece of software he wrote that changed the way people think about software development.

And the first thing out of his mouth was an apology.

Don’t Be Weaksauce. Be Strongsauce.

Linus Torvalds has something to say. He brings a great deal to the table. His ideas and opinions are capable of completely changing the game. So why on earth is he apologizing? He spent a good two minutes at the beginning of the talk apologizing for his content, talking about what he hates about speaking and presenting, and making self-deprecating jokes about his talent (or lack thereof) as a slide designer.

In short, this incredibly powerful person spends two minutes giving us excuses to dismiss him. And what if he weren’t so incredibly important? What if his system wasn’t so incredibly powerful? What if this guy didn’t change the game with projects he threw together on the weekends. What if, in short, he was just a regular dude?

Then this performance would be what my college roommate liked to call “Weaksauce.” His audience would’ve just stopped listening, and stopped caring.

“Let women figure out why they won’t screw you, don’t do it for them.” – S#*t My Dad Says

One of the internet’s most famous Dads says it all, right there. There are plenty of opportunities for a speech to go somewhat awry. Things can happen that will sink a presentation. That’s part of the reason they’re so scary for folks. But if you believe you’re sunk before you even begin, you’ve already lost the battle.

Starting off with an apology gives your audience a reason to tune you out. Maybe your audience will dislike part of your presentation, your slides, your style, or your message. But let them decide if something doesn’t meet their expectations. Don’t do the job for them.

Humility is good. Coming across as arrogant and “perfect” can be a huge turn-off for an audience, but a speaker who begins by apologizing comes across as weak. A lack of confidence means that people will be less receptive to your message. If you’re not confident in what you’re saying, why should they be?

So, don’t apologize. Ever. Deliver your message clearly and unapologetically. Be real about your message and real about who you are and what you have to offer. And remember that you need to let your audience come to their own conclusions about what you have to say. Even serious game-changers make mistakes, it comes with being human. People are very forgiving, but if you’re apologizing before you make any mistake, you’re making it easy to just dismiss you.