How to Swap “Perfect” for “Good Enough” the Next Time You Speak (And Why It’s a Good Idea)

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September 11, 2022

When you cook a meal at home, do you expect it to be restaurant quality? What about when you’re playing sport? Are you measuring your performance against that of a pro-athlete? And if you're delivering a pitch or presentation - are you aiming for professional speaker standards, with the mindset that nothing less than “perfect” will do?

If so, your quest for perfection might be sabotaging rather than serving your efforts to become a more confident public speaker.

Why perfectionism can be a dangerous standard to aim for

So many clients who come to me for help with public speaking are feeling frustrated. They’ve set an incredibly high bar to measure their progress and performance. And if they don't hit that bar or reach that target, they believe:

  • They’re not confident speakers

  • They don’t come across as poised and professional

  • They're not delivering their talk or presentation well

But quite often, their bar is based on what they’ve seen of professional speakers - and that's not realistic. When we compare the start of our public speaking journey to someone else’s middle or end, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment because it’s just not a fair comparison.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having high standards or striving for excellence. But shooting for perfection can mean you’re aiming for an impossible goal.

Then if your results don’t match your expectations, you risk becoming so discouraged and demotivated that you stop trying altogether and miss opportunities to put yourself out there and hone your speaking skills.

Make “good enough” the goal, not perfection

I recently came across the concept of swapping perfection for being “good enough” in what we do. It was developed by English paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. He was working with parents who were giving themselves a hard time because they wanted to be perfect parents for their children. His argument was that children don't need perfect parents. They need parents that are good enough. 

And in the vast majority of cases, audiences don't need perfect speeches. They need a talk, a speech or a presentation that is good enough. 

Recently, as part of my six-week group program Communicate with Confidence, we analysed several TED talks. My course participants were surprised to see that the talks weren't “perfect.”

One speaker mumbled a little bit, another fidgeted a lot with his hands, and a third wasn't great at making eye contact with the audience. They weren't perfect. But they were good enough. 

In fact, they were good enough to set them out as leaders in their fields. 

They were good enough to have several million YouTube views. 

And how did they achieve that connection, reach and hold the attention of their audience?Because there was a passion and authenticity about what they delivered, and that's what came through when they spoke. 

So, instead of aiming for perfection, how can we shift our perspective and strive to be “good enough” at public speaking?

What do “good enough” speaking goals look like?

When I say “good enough”, I don’t mean being unprepared, unpracticed or unprofessional. I’m talking about setting relevant, realistic speaking goals based on your specific situation and considering:

- The time you have available

- The resources you have access to

- Your current skillset

These factors combined will help you set achievable targets so you can progress and improve your skills each time you deliver a presentation or speech.

How to set “good enough” speaking goals

The key to identifying your “good enough” goals lies in the before and after of your speaking opportunity.


Preparing thoroughly for your talk will help you focus on the specific elements of your speaking that you want to improve. These are the areas you can use to set your “good enough” goals.

For example, if you are conscious that you tend to swing in your chair a lot when you speak over Zoom, and you know that can be distracting, then maybe your goal for this presentation is to eliminate that.

A caveat - don’t try to “fix” everything at once, as that can end up being an alternative route to perfection-seeking. Keep it simple and achievable and concentrate on tweaking one element of your speaking at a time. Gradually you’ll notice you’re raising that standard for yourself each time in a less pressured and stressful situation.

The other key area of your prep is doing an audience analysis. Sounds a little complicated, but I just mean knowing exactly who’ll be listening and what they most want and need to hear from you.

To help you simplify this process and break down what you need to know, download my free Audience Analysis checklist.

And for more detailed advice on how to prepare for and practise your speech, take a look at:

Your 5-Step Guide to Planning Powerful Presentations

4 Key Things to Focus on When Practising Your Presentation or Speech

Once your talk is over, it’s time to review those goals, acknowledge what you’ve achieved and see if there’s anything you can tweak in future.

One of the best ways to do this is by getting some helpful feedback to help you develop your strengths while identifying any areas you might want to improve on next time.

You’ll find lots of useful advice to help you with that in this post:

How to Get the Feedback You Need to Boost Your Speaking Confidence

Be aware that you may need to switch your perspective on the pointers you receive so you can use them as the basis for effective goals.

For example:Instead of criticising myself for “reading my speech”, next time I’ll discretely use notes with my key points.

Rather than beating myself up over having too many “umms” and “aahs”, I’ll aim to gradually reduce the filler words I use in my next few talks. 

I won’t blame myself for forgetting to include a point in my talk, but I will congratulate myself for remembering most of it.

Framing the feedback you receive in a positive way and using it as fuel to improve is the key to making your “good enough” goals work.

Authenticity beats perfection, every time

If you struggle with nerves before delivering a presentation and feel that you need to be flawless, then take the pressure off and lower the bar.

Your audience is not looking for perfection when you speak.

Do you believe in what you’re saying? Are you true to yourself when you’re delivering it? Those are the most important elements that will shine through as you speak and will ultimately create the connection that makes the audience remember you long after you’ve left the room.


I work with individuals and teams globally who want to unlock their speaking confidence so they can increase their influence.

To find out more, let’s have a chat!

Maureen McCowen, Presentation Skills Specialist, (087) 280-8734