Thursday, 18 June 2015

Presentation: Fear and Failure




We run a LOT of presentation skills courses.  A LOT.

Indeed, it is our most popular course and we also run quite a lot of one-to-one work for people preparing for a big event or who would prefer individual tuition rather than working in a group or who can’t take the time out for a whole one, two or five days.

Over the years, we’ve been contacted by people who have failed at a previous presentation and are now terrified at the prospect of ‘getting back on the horse’.

We completely understand where they are coming from; there is nothing worse for someone’s self-esteem and confidence than to fail. Not only fail, fail in front of others many of whom may be colleagues.

Crawling out from under the rock of humiliation takes a lot of courage.

Our starting point for any course or one-to-one coaching is empathy. There’s no point trying to push someone into doing something they are terrified of if you don’t reassure them that what they are feeling is normal. Even if they haven’t failed, it is normal to be frightened of standing up in front of others, be it strangers or colleagues, and presenting.

From reassurance we progress to giving people an insight into what actually physiologically and psychologically happens to most people when they present. The more you understand what happens to you in the presenting ‘arena’ the more in charge you will feel.

Nerves create all sorts of sensations and thoughts that can make you feel out of control. When I’m nervous my knees shake which of course means my legs shake.  If I start concentrating on how much my legs shake then I start fearing that my hands will shake and my voice will tighten and everyone will be able to see how scared I am.

It’s a vicious circle because all the attention is focused on my nerves rather than on my presentation.

That’s what happens to a lot of people when they present; their nerves take over.

Now another thing that’s as important as empathy for the fear people are feeling is that you can’t banish nerves by giving yourself a hard time about being nervous. I’ve heard people call themselves pathetic, a wimp; they should buck up; they should get over it.  That’s awful.  Bashing yourself will only make it worse.

Acknowledging what actually happens to you and accepting that you have nerves doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it, but acknowledgement and acceptance help you put things into perspective. What you are feeling is real, it isn’t a sign of weakness or a lack of professionalism.

Empathy, understanding, acknowledgement. All very positive and humane ways of dealing with a very natural and common anxiety.

Once those are in place, then we as trainers can actually look at how to build confidence and skills so that you can actually look forward to stepping into that presentation arena rather than crawling back under that rock. 

Check out Impact Factory’s range of Presentation Skills courses.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

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