When I was in school, giving a presentation to the class was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. I could understand why many people would rank this as worse than the fear of dying.
But there were a few things that shifted my perspective. First, as I took years of piano lessons, I had occasion to play at recitals. Stressful as these experiences were, I learned that MY perception was much different than the listeners’. They weren’t nearly as critical as I was upon myself.
When I started working in the corporate world, I was shocked to find that teaching classes on technical topics wasn’t nearly as stressful as when I was younger. The key difference was that the attendees actually wanted to hear what I had to say, and viewed me as the “expert” on the subject.
As a result, I’ve learned that much of the negative experience of giving presentations is actually self-induced. It comes from fears of losing face, of being embarrassed or of making mistakes. But rarely is an audience as critical of you as you are of yourself.
Plus, people in the audience know what kind of stress you’re experiencing. They empathize with your pain, and often even want to help you succeed.
If it helps you, I suppose you could envision everyone in the audience in their underwear, even though that idea has been pretty well discredited by now. It doesn’t work for me. Instead, I do my best to recognize that the audience is just a bunch of people who know the stress I’m experiencing, and will forgive mistakes because of that, because they want me to succeed. And they want to hear what I have to say.
I was at a funeral today, and as you’d expect, the daughter of the deceased had great difficulty in getting through her eulogy. You know what? Everyone was patient, understanding, and supported her throughout the speech.
It was nowhere near perfect, but it was wonderful.
by Carl Dierschow