Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Facing Your Public Speaking Fears

An executive client called to say, “I’m so nervous about my upcoming presentation. I’m afraid I’ll shake or do something embarrassing. I don’t want to make a fool of myself by forgetting what I intend to say. What if the audience thinks I’m incompetent or it’s a waste of their time?” He paused, and said almost to himself,” My job may be in jeopardy.”

The phone caller expressed a common concern. Sometimes my prospective clients are disappointed I’ve no magic wand. There are times when a presenter will be uncomfortable or even rejected when speaking in public. Your slides may be mixed up or the computer could shut down. You can have a humiliating introduction like the emcee who said my client had achieved a lot considering she was going through her second divorce. It took discipline to smile and stand up to speak after that.

Embarrassment did not stop General David Petraeus when he collapsed during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing and his head fell forward on the table. His aides quickly escorted him from the room. Twenty-five minutes later the General returned, grinning sheepishly, and told the committee that he "got a little bit lightheaded there.” He even interjected some humor, adding, “It wasn't Senator McCain's question." He said he was prepared to continue. However, the meeting was adjourned and the General walked briskly from the room. Who knows if it was fatigue, not eating, or the stress of the tough questioning from Congress on the drawdown of Afghanistan forces? Was it an embarrassing, uncomfortable situation with videos replaying his fainting again and again? You bet. It comes with the territory. You get up and go forward.

Hopefully, you will never experience something as extreme as General Petraeus’ collapse in front of the world but things happen. People will text in your audience or take mental vacations. Being embarrassed or nervous, even when your job is in the balance, shouldn’t prevent you from being a compelling communicator unless you fall prey to the Critic and Doubter in your head. When the thought comes that maybe you can’t pull off the presentation, renew your determination to connect with the audience and get your message across. Believe in yourself and the worth of your ideas. Be confident that if you keep going, the nervousness will subside and you will feel more comfortable.

Gradually, you'll be able to be more objective and even have a sense of humor about the faux pas, like the General. Besides, such situations always make for great stories in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Good suggestion - if a person just keeps going, the nervousness will subside. Once you are up there giving your presentation, there is "no way out," so you might as well just keep going and make it as geat as you can. And that is your own personal reward, huh?