Many of us have to overcome nerves when we give presentations.
Here’s my story…
If feeling nervous and insecure internally wasn’t bad enough, I couldn’t hide my fears from being seen by my audience.
Like many people, I have been giving presentations for a long time. I remember numerous opportunities growing up where I had to speak or perform in front of groups: grade school presentations, talent shows, theatrical performances or my high school graduation speech. I didn’t love public speaking, but I thought of myself as capable.
And then came college. I went to college in a different culture than the one I grew up in. And that cultural change triggered some things, such as insecurity around social norms and a heightened concern over what others thought about me. If feeling nervous and insecure internally wasn’t bad enough, I couldn’t hide my fears from being seen by my audience. My nerves showed up like a bright red rash that would work its way up from my chest to my neck when I spoke in front of a group.
I remember two occasions in particular. One was in a freshman speech class. My content and verbal delivery were good, but the visual of my red neck was a distraction to me and my audience. It made for a memorable presentation, but for all the wrong reasons. Having people bring it up and ask me about it afterwards certainly didn’t help, either.
(T)hat’s the day I became my own visual aid.
The other occasion was in front of a group of fellow student leaders where I was supposed to give a motivational talk. Anticipating that my creeping red neck would show up, I decided on a different approach. I would own it. And that’s the day I became my own visual aid. I talked about the importance of overcoming our own fears and feelings of inadequacy as leaders. To illustrate, I shared about my red neck problem. As if on cue, that’s right when the redness rose above my collar like mercury in a thermometer on a hot Texas day. With the eyes of 50+ friends looking right at it, I felt like someone had turned the heat up right on my face.
My red neck presentation delighted some and puzzled others. On one hand, discussing it openly helped me avoid succumbing to fear and evading public speaking altogether – something that was important to a guy who ironically majored in communications. But acknowledging it publicly in front of a group I wanted to fit in with also didn’t make it go away. For the rest of college, many of my friends looked forward to seeing the red neck show up from time to time.
You shall overcome
If you would rather call in sick than give a presentation at work, you know what I’m talking about.
There are many ways that fear can affect people in public speaking. It may be a physiologic response, like mine, or a number of other symptoms you’d rather avoid: fast heartbeat, sweaty palms, shaking hands or knees, dry mouth, blank thoughts. If you would rather call in sick than give a presentation at work, you know what I’m talking about.
And if you’re wondering, I’m not completely immune to the red neck problem. But I have learned to manage it and to really enjoy giving presentations. Ways to overcome these fears can include deep breathing, positive visualization and self-talk, exercise and many more. In my experience, however, nothing beats preparation and practice. That is exactly what I help coach people on individually and in public speaking workshops through Say It Up Front.
Thankfully, the redness shows up much less frequently and noticeably these days. As a result, I’ve graduated to more effective visual aids than using my own neck as a thermometer.
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