We all seem to know a person who loves to give presentations, who talks with excitement about their next presentation opportunity and shines with charisma in front of an audience. I envy these people, their self-assurance and their love for being the center of attention with all eyes on them. Although I have tried to just “fake it til I make it”, I still have not made it and I simply fear presenting to any crowd larger than a couple handful of people. I fear making mistakes, being uninteresting and I fear to ridicule myself in front of an audience.
Although I know I am not alone, it seems to be a taboo to talk about this openly, especially as one advances in their corporate career. It seems to be the expected norm that as you grow into your career, presenting becomes something you do without any efforts and any concerns. But is it? Do all corporate leaders step on stage with ease and comfort like it's second nature? And if not, why don’t we talk more about it to abolish the taboo and help our successors step forward without having to fake it til they make it. Personally, as a Senior Director I very rarely hear any colleagues dare mention their fear and discomfort related to presentation and often wonder if I am the only one who really worries about presenting and who ends up rehearsing multiple times any presentation I have to give.
Is anyone else out there?
If anyone reading this is thinking “me too!”, I say “great and nice to meet you”.
Although I fear presenting, I have a love-hate relationship with all presentation opportunities I am given. I really don’t enjoy the fear, the stress, the preparation and the rehearsing, but I love the feeling I get when I am done and I feel that it went well. I actually have the same relationship with presenting as I have with running. The thought of going for a run discourages me and it takes me great efforts to get going, but once I am done running my usual 5km, I feel great, proud for my effort and happy to have pulled through. Same as after giving a presentation.
When it comes to presenting, I have realized that even though I am aging, I am not finding presenting easier or less stressful, so I have come to accept that I will probably always be stressed prior to a presentation, regardless of how prepared I am. When that is said, I might have accepted this fact, but I have decided along the way that I’d give myself a chance and to do so, I always do a few things to minimise my discomfort as much as I can:
I thoroughly prepare as much as I can
I usually don’t build the slide deck first… I have learned over time that this doesn't work well for me. Instead, I draft the full speech I intend on given and based on that, I create the presentation needed to support visually what I will say
I rehearse. I rehearse a few times alone but also often ask my wife to watch me rehearse and give me feedback
I record myself. The best way to improve in any sport is to record the training and watch the results… This doesn't apply only to sport but to any performance. Based on this idea, I started recording my rehearsals a while back. Either on a camera or at least just the sound so that I can view and/or hear my presentation. I admit I was very uncomfortable at first listening or watching myself, but it’s been extremely helpful. It allows me to see where I need to improve, where my presentation lacks momentum, where I talk too much or dive too deep. I can hear and watch to see what I like and don’t like and improve from there.
I wear clothes I feel good in. This allows me to be as comfortable as I can be while presenting...
I find friendly faces in the crowd or online to look at and avoid looking at anyone who might intimidate me.. Yes I get intimidated easily.
I talk about it… I have realized that telling my peers, colleagues and employees about my doubts and my presentation stress has a positive impact. Although it means to put myself out there and be in an extremely vulnerable position, sharing my fears has been a great way to create a support system. People have been kind, encouraging and offering tips, tricks and feedback with kindness. Putting myself out there is scary but so comforting once I dare do so.
I accept that I get stressed every time I have to give a presentation and I try to compartmentalise the stress so that it doesn’t affect the rest of my day or tasks. I time box preparation, rehearsals and stress to contain it as much as possible
Overall, as a leader, I think it’s important to talk about being stressed before presenting to demystify and humanize leadership. I am not immune to self-doubts nor am I immune to the fear of being judged.