“Don’t apologize to the audience” is a guest post from our editor, Caroline.
Normally, we use sports to talk about business around here. Only problem is, I don’t play sports, don’t follow sports, it’s just not my thing. So what do I know well enough to draw important lessons from?
I’ve always been, or at least always wanted to be, a writer. Before I learned to write, I drew pictures to illustrate the stories in my head. My Dad is a poet, so I always knew writing was a thing a person could do.
I started writing my own poetry when I was eight, but for years wasn’t brave enough to share it publicly. My Dad bugged me to do one of the local open-mike poetry readings, but I always refused—until I saw the movie Dead Poet’s Society. Inspired, I wrote a new poem and announced my plans to read it that very week.
The day of the reading dawned. Spiral-bound notebook in hand, I went with my father to the reading and signed up. When my turn came, I got up, said something like “I’m sorry I’m not very good, this is my first reading,” and I read my poem. I think the audience liked it. They clapped, anyway. I sat down again.
My father turned to me and, in very stern tones, gave me what I believe performing arts people call “a note.”
“Don’t apologize to the audience. If they can’t tell what your shortcomings are, don’t tell them.”
I had apologized to my audience quite literally, but in the years since, I’ve discovered that there are lots of ways this same sneaky impulse can manifest itself, and not all of them involve public speaking. Any time you are presenting yourself to someone else, whether in person, in writing, or on the phone, that is your audience, your readership. Any time you try to gain sympathy by presenting yourself as “less than,” you are apologizing. Don’t do it.
Now, if it is important that you disclose a problem in a professional context, then go ahead. I am not talking about lying or bluffing. I’m talking about feeling and acting as though you have a right to be where you are and do what you’re doing. It’s a rookie mistake, but that doesn’t mean only rookies make it. I’ve seen talented, established professionals apologize for themselves on bad days.
I’m also talking about self-presentation. By and large, we tell other people who we are and what we’re about. They don’t know, otherwise. Presenting yourself as reliable and competent isn’t just good for business, it’s also good for your clients and business associates. After all, you are qualified, or you wouldn’t be where you are now. You are trustworthy, so telling your audience that you aren’t trustworthy is inaccurate and makes them nervous about you for no good reason.
Writers communicate. That’s our job. That means that we become very aware of what and how we’re communicating, even the things we maybe didn’t mean to communicate—and we know we can make choices about our communication. And the fact of the matter is that (with rare exceptions), if your audience can’t tell what your shortcomings are without your help, those shortcomings probably aren’t all that short to begin with.
This article, “Don’t Apologize to the Audience,” is a guest post written by our editor, Caroline Ailanthus. Caroline is not a sports fan but she is a great writer. We all can learn lessons from different things.
Here’s a 2023 podcast episode featuring the writer of this blog, Caroline Ailanthus: Give Yourself Permission to Write Badly