One of Edward Tufte’s presentation tips is “Never apologize.”

Never apologize. If you’re worried the presentation won’t go well, keep it to yourself and give it your best shot. Besides, people are usually too preoccupied with their own problems to notice yours.

True that. Presenting, like performing, relies a lot on confidence (or at least the illusion of confidence). If you get up and begin with an apology, you’ve already undermined your own credibility and dug yourself a big hole.

Plus, apologizing before a presentation is insulting to the audience. If you get up on stage in front of people, you’ve got to believe that what you’re offering them, even if not perfectly honed, is worthwhile. If you don’t think so, why should they?

The power of the pause
There’s also a Tufte tip that says, “Be sure to allow long pauses for questions.” I think the intended meaning here is take your time while waiting for questions. But I’d like to add a related thought: It’s alright to pause before answering a question too.

When someone fires a question at you, there’s an instinctual feeling that you’ve got to respond instantly, especially if you’re billed as an “expert.” You want to show that you’ve got an instant answer.

If you have a response on the tip of your tongue, that’s great. But sometimes it can be a good idea to pause and think about the question, what your response is, and how you want to phrase it. I’m not talking a half-hour lull or anything. Just a few seconds to collect your thoughts in your brain before they come out your mouth.

Unlike opening with an apology, a brief pause doesn’t come across as weak or flabby. It makes you seem like you care about your answer. It shows respect for the question, the questioner, and the audience. And it makes them want to listen.

In this age of instant information, there’s something strangely satisfying about someone who takes a moment to formulate an answer in order to deliver a coherent, thought-out response.