“I’d rather be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy!” -Jerry Seinfeld
Do you have a big presentation coming up that has you feeling nervous? Have you ever been asked to present and felt terrified, hesitant, or uncomfortable? Are you one of the 75% of people who fear public speaking more than death?
I am typically not one of the 75%, which is probably the reason I majored in Communications. Well, that and the fact that I am really bad at math. However, there was a time over 20 years ago that still has my stomach in knots when I think about it.
In order for you to understand what happened that day, I want to take you back to the night before when I received a phone call from a CEO, who was a client of mine. He said, “Tamara, I have a favor to ask. Is there any chance you can stop by our leadership retreat tomorrow? Richard Rodriquez, our CIO, cannot make it and I would like you to share a little about the project you and Richard have been working on.” I said, “No problem….what time do you need me to be there?” He replied, “10:30 AM.”
So, the next day, I pull up to the Shadow Ridge Country Club at 10:15 and I begin to look for my client and the other executives attending the leadership retreat. As I am walking down a long hallway towards the lobby, I see there is a conference going on and, although I am in a hurry, I am also curious and slow my pace to see who the keynote speaker might be.
As I continue walking past the second set of double doors to this large conference room, I see a familiar face. It was Larry Hall, one of the executives in Richard’s group and, at that very moment, I realized that I would be speaking in that room. I was in complete shock and felt pure panic wash over me. Here I thought I would be talking to a group of 8-10 executives, but instead I was about to present to an audience of almost 200 people.
I know each and every one of you has had a moment. Perhaps it was back in college or high school. Maybe it was at your best friend’s wedding when you were giving the toast or at a recent job interview. Whatever the place, whatever the reason, you can probably all recall a moment that had YOU terrified, hesitant, or uncomfortable. We don’t forget these moments. They are embedded in our brain for life.
As a presentation coach, one of the things I always work on with all of my clients is to identify their tools for overcoming any particular emotion that may surface when they are about to present or during a presentation. It is imperative that you have a solid strategy that you can implant during those moments.
According to Business Insider, 90% of the anxiety people feel before a presentation is due to lack of preparation. It is imperative to identify a strategy that works for you — one that is authentic to who you are both as a person and a presenter.
Some of my favorite strategies for overcoming anxiety and getting myself to a place where I am feeling powerful and in control are authenticity, stories or humor. Luckily, a combination of all three of those strategies allowed me to survive that moment at the Shadow Ridge Country Club. I was able to kick off my presentation with a story about the call I received the night before and I brought the audience along with me to the moment I was standing there before them. In that story, I was able to spark some laughter which immediately helped calm my nerves. In addition, the story allowed for a level of authenticity and vulnerability that helped me to truly connect with the audience.
But the biggest thing I told myself before stepping on that stage was that this moment is really not about me, it is about my audience. I am simply there as the messenger of a beautiful program that Richard implemented and I was fortunate enough to be a part of. This audience is not there to judge me, they are there to listen because they are curious about the information I am about to share. So remember that when you deliver your next presentation.
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