Loathe public speaking? Get so nervous you almost turn into a puddle? Considering faking a long term illness so you can avoid it? Come on in…
I am so here for the fear of public speaking conversation. If you’re anything like me you’d do just anything to avoid it. You’d conjure up a debilitating illness out of thin air. You’d feign up-to-your-eyeballs busyness. You’d pretend that you were totally happy to do it in any other circumstances, it’s just in this case there’s a diary clash, a Very Important Meeting and/or the dog ate your USB drive. That don’t have a dog is just a minor detail in the jolly old game of avoiding public speaking.
In case I wasn’t clear: I loathe speaking in public. Public speaking makes me nervous. Public speaking makes me stressed. Public speaking makes me want to quit my job. I hate being the centre of attention. I hate the physical effects even more: my throat gets all tight and I feel like I can’t breathe. Then I hear the nerves in my voice, leaking out of my skin, and that makes me feel even worse because I don’t want anyone to know that I’m nervous. Because nothing is worse than feeling you’re melting into a pool of anxiety in front of an audience of people you like, respect, and ultimately want to impress.
“Nothing is worse than melting into a pool of anxiety in front of people you like and respect.”
I’ve done decent presentations in my time, and I’ve done pretty terrible ones too. The worst thing is that even when I’ve been complimented (shock, horror) I still think I’ve done an awful job. I remember one time someone saying to me afterwards that I’d done really well and set the precedent for the rest of the team. A massive compliment! But I thought they were just saying it because they felt sorry for me because of how awful I was.
So when I got dragged into doing a presentation at work this week I wanted to die. I honestly felt like a dead person walking. Maybe that’s something to do with the stinker of a cold I’ve had for the last five days, but I just felt so weighed by the dread. If I could have done anything to get out of it, I would. When my manager mentioned that it could potentially be cancelled I popped up like a meerkat like, hello, where do I sign? But no, no escaping.
“They say that presenting is like a muscle; you have to keep working it out.”
They say presenting is like a muscle; you have to keep working it out to make it stronger. Well, I hadn’t done anything in a year. So any muscle I’d developed had long since loosened into a flaccid pile of mush. I remember the last time I did it I was only a few weeks into the job. I’d somehow convinced myself that I if I didn’t spend ages stressing about it, it would all be fine. Erm, nope. I remember it being like an out of body experience where I felt so uncomfortable the whole time. Oh yes, and I also fluffed some of the slides because it was all thrown together at the last minute.
So what was the one thing I did differently this time? Because every time I read up on the breathing exercises and imagining everyone is naked it never makes a blind bit of difference. So this time I decided to rehearse. I practised my material so that I knew it inside out, word for word. I sat in my spare room with my laptop and I went through my slides three, four, five, six times, and I filmed myself on my phone so I could see how I was coming across as well.
“What was the one thing I did differently this time around? Well, I made sure I knew my material inside out.”
It doesn’t sound like rocket science, I know. But it took away that fear of the unknown away – where you find yourself left hanging, unsure of what you’re going to say next. That’s when you start rambling and filling in the silence with stuff you don’t mean to say. As I was so rehearsed, it meant, even when my heart was thumping – and trust me, it was thumping so hard I was surprised no one else could hear it – I still knew exactly what I wanted to say.
That’s not to say it was the finished article. It wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot. I couldn’t get the clicker to work and when the volume on my video was too low my colleague sorted it out. But overall, it was fine. I said what I wanted to say, I explained my points clearly, and I kept the shaking rattle of nerves contained inside my chest – and out of my voice. Also, I got a question at the end. No one else got a question, and that says to me that they were interested in what I had to say, So all in all, I was happy with how it had gone.
“My colleague asked me if I was nervous. I looked at her with the face of someone who’d been asked whether they wanted pizza for tea.”
Afterwards, I was speaking with my colleague, to whom I’d already confessed by nerves and general loathing of speaking in public. She asked me if I was nervous there. I said yes, of course, with the face of someone who’s asked whether they want pizza for tea. I wrote down what she said in the notes section on my phone so I didn’t forget, and it was this: “I would never have known. You were cool, calm and collected.”
Now, she is pretty much the nicest person ever so even if I was hideously awful she probably wouldn’t say, but I really appreciated her saying that. And that’s another thing. One thing I learned is that just because you’re nervous on the inside it doesn’t mean that it shows on the outside. And when everyone’s eyes are on you, that’s good to know. Now onto the next one…