This topic is old news to me, considering how many times I had been called up for a presentation but when I learn that I’m supposed to give a presentation, I clam up. I know I will never be able to avoid or run away from presentations but it’s still one of my biggest fears. As big as my cockroach phobia and the idea of paranormal beings.
If you have felt your heart beating so loud like a big bass drum, your brain and mouth have suddenly gone AWOL, and what feels like butterflies fluttering around in your stomach, then this is a typical scenario when it comes to presentations. Yours truly isn’t a fan of presentations. I abhor them, I detest them, I dislike them. I hate them. The idea of doing anything in front of an audience is not attractive to me.
I suppose you could say that I’ve never been trained nor taught the proper way of stage performance, not even when I used to play the piano where at the end of each year, there would be an exam that required me to play on stage in front of a crowd. I prefer to work backstage and be in charge of the props and resources than to smile and wave nervously at the crowd. Honestly, I’ve never enjoyed being in the spotlight. I try not to draw attention to myself, and often kept my head low and out of sight. I wasn’t so much of a law-abiding citizen but I was certainly a wallflower.
This may have played a role in shaping my future. As I grew older, I resented being put out there and in front of everyone. If I could trade places with others, I would. If I couldn’t, I’d find a way to escape. In college, the trade-offs worked. I got through the semesters and graduated. Now that I’m working, the tables have turned. There are no trade-offs. You either get it done or get out.
The strange thing is, I can be overly prepared, know what I should be saying, yet the moment I stand up there in front of everyone, my mind goes blank. I still end up sinking the PowerPoint ship. My throat tightens, my breathing feels constricted, and my heart thumps even harder and louder than before.
Sometimes it’s so bad, it hurts. As if I suddenly have trouble breathing! I end up staring at the many faces seated before me. My eyes dart here and there, thumbs twiddling, while my brain tries to think of an escape route. Sometimes, I’d stand there like a dumb kid, unable to move, unable to breathe. Sometimes, I’d calmly walk off the stage despite having not uttered a word.
Clearly, I have issues with my self-confidence. Trying to bribe your classmates into trading places with you when it’s your turn to present is definitely not the way to go. Because now I’m in an even tighter situation than ever, and while management is kind enough not to penalize me, I still have to get over my fears and speak up. Because this is my career we’re talking about. Not your parents, not your friends, not your spouse. No, just you.
So here some of the ways that you can use to overcome your stage fright:
- Shift the focus from yourself and your fear to your true purpose by contributing something of value to your audience.
- Stop scaring yourself with thoughts of what could go wrong. Focus instead on images and thoughts that are calming and reassuring.
- Practice ways to calm and relax your mind and body, such as deep breathing, yoga, relaxation exercises, and meditation.
- Visualize your success by focusing on your strength and ability to handle challenging situations.
- Prepare your material in advance and read it out loud to hear your voice. You can do this with a friend or in front of the mirror.
- Connect with your audience by smiling and greeting people. Think of them as friends rather than enemies.
- Present yourself with self-assurance and self-confidence: Remain warm and open, and always make eye contact.
Don’t worry about trying so hard to be perfect. It’s OK to make mistakes. Remember to just be natural and be yourself. You can always laugh it off or apologize for the error and move on. Speaking of which, I should try some of these tips myself too!