Presentation jitters

Posted on November 8, 2012 by


I am a cynic. Before a presentation, I think I’m going to fail.  I’m going to run out     of things to say; it’s only a matter of time before I really mess up. I’m not even going to think about taking risks; my sense of shame is preemptive and highly developed.

A poll of the two people sitting next to me suggests that 100% of respondents feel the same way. (This is the kind of dumb joke I’m afraid to make in front of 20 or so people with Mike videotaping and grading me).*

In reality, though, a lot of people feel anxiety before presenting. Many famous speakers, such as Cicero and Margaret Thatcher, suffered from this. Presenting in front of any number of people is always a challenge because the presenter or speaker is keenly aware of the presence of all the people there who can judge them. Even if the speaker isn’tsn’t being tested, it’s incredibly easy  to focus on the negatives. Having some fear is natural. Generally, when someone is speaking in public it means they have a lot at stake.

*Here’s a slightly more scientific poll from gallup about people’s irrational fears.

The worst thing that ever happened to me for public speaking was during an informal, in-class, freshman-year debate about the benefits of Legalism and Confucianism. My group hadn’t really decided what our roles were going to be, but all of the sudden our prep-time was up. The teacher asked who was going first for the “opening”. There was a long silence, because nobody in my group wanted to. Having only a vague idea of what the argument was, I finally volunteered.

I stepped up to the lectern, started talking, and promptly ran out of gas. “…Uh….uh…um…”  doesn’t make a very convincing argument. For 15-20 seconds I just stood there, not knowing what to say. When I finally sat down I felt like someone had clapped a frying pan on both sides of my head. Ouch.

This hasn’t happened to me this year in Age of Ex. I hope it will never happen again… but that’s what I’m afraid of every time I present.

Fellow anxious-people, here are some reasons for reassurance:

1. If you prepare, you’ll be fine. The reason this happened to me was because I wasn’t ready to present. If you’ve researched, then you’ll be fine. Really.

2. People don’t judge you the way you think they do. They aren’t going to hate you if you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about; at worst they’ll be a little bored.

3. What’s the worst that’s going to happen?

The biggest mistakes, in my experience, come from being nervous. My worst presentation was really so bad not because I was unprepared but because I started thinking about how terribly I was doing. I look funny when giving my presentation, almost nervous. If you focus on the task at hand and are decently prepared for it, you should be safe.

The video above shows some interesting techniques for getting ready for a presentation. Right before you’re about to present just imagine these people tapping their foreheads to relieve stress.

This video  is also interesting. It talks about power-posing, which supposedly releases brain-chemicals to relieve stress.

So, for all my fellow anxious presenters, it’s not as bad as you think it is. Prepare right, and you’ll be fine. Really.

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