Yes. Seriously. There was a time when I looked to an old mentor of mine for presentation advice. He told me to smell my own my fart.
Now I understand that the idea of this piece could be a little grotesque, but hear me out – the advice was pretty good.
It reminds me of a story. There was a time where I had this HUGE presentation gig scheduled, and all I thought about were the things that could go wrong. You know what I mean — the projector not working, losing memory of what I wanted to say, not captivating the audience enough, and so on. It turned my stomach for weeks.
The strange thing was I knew that the level of effort I put into preparing was more than good. I mean, my slides were spectacular, and I rehearsed for the presentation like crazy. Yet, I still had that sinking feeling inside me that I just couldn’t shake off. So I thought it would be a good idea to seek some advice from a mentor of mine.
Let’s call him R.
R and I used to work in the same firm back in the day. Let me tell you, this guy was (and still is) a fantastic presenter. There was something about the way he gave presentations that captivated the audience from beginning to end. His style was subtle, yet effective. He’s one of the very few presenters out there that manages to always match the needs of the audience with the content of his presentation. It just made sense to go see him
I still remember the day I knocked on his office door and he signaled me to come in. This was the conversation we had.
R: “Ah, Yoyo. How are you, buddy?”
Me: “I’m doing good R, I actually just came by to ask for advice, if you wouldn’t mind of course?”
R: “Advice?” He said while chuckling. “How can I help?”
Me: “Well, see, I have this big presentation coming up. I’ve worked hard on it. My PowerPoint slides are perfect, I rehearsed the content. But I can’t shake the feeling that my execution is going to be off.”
R: “What do you mean by your execution being off?”
Me: “I just feel like I’m going to blow it. What if the audience doesn’t like what I have to say? What if I notice someone isn’t paying attention and that affects my ability to proceed with the presentation?”
It was at that moment he took a deep breath and looked at me. You know that kind of moment where you know someone is about to drop some mind-blowing speech at you in one go? Yeah, that.
R: “I’m going to ask you something that’s going to seem really, really weird. But, I think it’s necessary for you to actually understand the point I’m going to get across to you. Okay?”
R: “Have you ever smelled your own fart?”
Now just imagine this for a second. Your role model, who you have had the chance to gain valuable insight from, just asked you if you ever smelled your own wind. How the hell are you supposed to react?
Me: “Uh… R, are you asking if I ever smelled my own fart? As in, like, the gas that leaves’s my body?”
Me: “I mean, yes, don’t we all?”
R: “Exactly. So you know what it smells like then? Would you agree it smells bad?”
Me: “I guess?”
R: “Yoyo, when you smell your own fart, you smell something that smells awful. But that’s just the thing. You smelled something that you made, and it stunk. It’s an act that you committed, and you took full notice of it.
I was still really confused. He went on.
R: “See, I asked you that question to try and promote the idea of self-awareness. You need to know if you’re doing something wrong and then rectify it. You told me you practiced for your presentation. Are you confident?
R: “You also told me your PowerPoint slides are perfect. Are you happy with the deck you made?”
R: “Then you have nothing to worry about. If your presentation or your slides stink, then you’ll know because you know when something stinks.”
R probably gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever received in my entire career. The first step in the process to anything, whether it’s giving presentations, meeting a client, asking someone out, or even making your own bed, is to be aware of your own skills. You have to be in tune with your intuition, knowledge, and practice to understand that what you do is effective. Once you acknowledge that, everything is else is up in the air (pun intended).
As long as you put in the work for any presentation you give, you will do fine. And if you didn’t, you’ll know, because you once smelled your own fart.
Now it’s your turn. Tell me about a time you received some weird advice that was actually helpful to you. It doesn’t have to about giving presentations. Let me know in the comments below.