In conversation in the pub last night (a rare event, that – going to a pub these days), my drinking buddy Andy asked me if I got nervous before doing presentations.
“Yes”, I said. But that I knew how to manage it.
We talked further, and at one point I said that one of the things I feel quite strongly about successful presenting is that you have to not be afraid of making a bit of a fool of yourself.
“Ah.” said Andy. “Saying that says to me that you actually don’t get nervous any more.”
Hmm. Maybe not.
I used to get terribly nervous presenting. Which mostly manifested itself in profuse sweating – which is never a nice thing. As a kid I had done lots of drama and music, so had learned something about being on stage, and also how to project my voice.
In 2005 I then went and worked for a small leadership development firm, and found myself, day after day, standing up in front of groups of maybe 10 or 15 complete strangers, working with them on subjects from project management to coaching to presenting skills. Nearly two years of that every day, I guess, has got me over the uncontrolled nervousness of presenting. I learned how to build rapport, how to hold and audience, how to tell a story. And also how, when it’s going wrong, the counter-intuitive thing that you need to do is put even more energy into it (especially if the audience are half asleep). That’s the making a fool of yourself bit – that our natural inclination within a group of people is to mirror their behaviour and so if you are in a room of the semi-sleeping, being more lively and extrovert feels very unnatural indeed.
I still do get nerves before presenting. I’d worry if I didn’t. But I think Andy is probably right – I don’t get nervous. And the advice I always give to people who find the whole thing petrifying is, unfortunately, you’ll only get to control that by confronting your fears and doing and awful lot of presenting…