I was already nervous about speaking and this made it worse
Fear gripped me like a python wrapping around my body and squeezing the air out of me. Yeah, I can talk all day long about communication; I have ingested so much content on this topic. It’s easy for me to churn out valuable and relevant information on demand, but this was different. I was asked by my pastor to speak at our Wednesday night service on a topic which was much less familiar. This required research on my part; I really had to prepare.
I spent several nights putting together this presentation on “The Correlation Between Faith and Righteousness”. This assignment truly stretched me. I wanted to ensure I pulled all the information together to support my belief and then inspire the audience to use their faith. This audience expected biblical backing for practical use and I have a lot less experience with this type of talk.
I agreed to do it because I felt I needed to challenge myself to grow as a speaker. However, as I began to spend time preparing, feelings of regret and anxiety began to take root.
The funny thing is, only a week prior I had taken on a new one-on-one coaching client who wanted to work on her public speaking skills. Her trepidation for speaking to groups of people was so strong, she did not want to join my small group coaching sessions, she wanted to work alone. When I asked her how she felt when she had to take the stage, she said she felt like she was going to faint. I remember looking at her with empathy, but I could not remember if my fear level had ever been that extreme. A week later, I was able to totally identify with her.
I stayed up the entire night putting the last-minute touches on my PowerPoint presentation for my church’s Empowered Living series. It was the most beautiful presentation I had ever created, driven by vibrant pictures to help drive my point home. I included a detailed outline, something I never do. I even practiced a few parts in the mirror. Anticipation was building, my heart pounded hard and fast every time I remembered what I had to do that night.
About ninety minutes before it was time to leave the house I sat at my computer to transfer my presentation on a jump drive. I pulled up PowerPoint, opened the files clicked on the topic and there were only a few slides from an earlier draft I had since abandoned. Where was the presentation I stayed up all night to complete, which included my outline? Unbelievably, I could not find it anywhere. I broke out into a sweat.
My first thought was to run in the room and exclaim to my husband that I had lost my PowerPoint, but he was taking a nap and I quickly realized the only thing he would do was jump up and make me more nervous. Then I thought about feigning illness and using that as an excuse to not show up. However, I decided to quietly get dressed and say nothing to anyone and employ the same techniques I share with my clients.
When we got in the car my husband asked me if I had my presentation, I calmly nodded yes. Technically, I did have it, in my head somewhere. I spent quite a few hours preparing, I knew what I wanted to say. PowerPoint is a crutch for many speakers. They try to write their talk on the slides which does not enhance audience engagement. I spent the time in the car focused on what I wanted to give the audience.
This did not stop the rush I could feel going to my head which pounded with every heartbeat. I felt like I was going to faint. When we are overcome by anxiety, our breathing sometime becomes shallow. That means we may not be getting enough oxygen to the brain; this can cause you to feel weak and faint. So, during the ride I closed my eyes and focused on breathing deeply. I imagined the outcome I desired. I tried to see myself delivering in the way I wanted and connecting with the audience.
I blocked all those negative thoughts of tripping and falling as I walked to the podium, having my mind go blank and anything else that would be mortifying.
When we got to church, I took my seat and tried to sketch what I could remember from my outline. I told myself that the pounding heart and perspiration was the extra energy I needed to deliver my message. These physiological reactions were my super powers. After all, the body reacts the same way when we are excited.
I prayed silently and asked God to speak through me and trusted he would. They called my name; I took a deep breath. I did not make apologies or mention my lost PowerPoint. I focused on the moment and the opportunity. In turn, the important ideas I had worked on came to me and I was able to flow. My church family tuned in, took notes and afterward I was flooded with people who said their faith was inspired. Mission Accompli.
Afterwards my husband laughed to hear about my PowerPoint fiasco and said he was amazed at how I spoke without notes or slides.
I believe everyone can learn to master their public speaking fears and there is a speaker in you. Email to enquire about my upcoming workshop that begins July 31.
- Kim Welcome is CEO & founder of Influential Voice. She assists businesses and professionals to develop deliberate, skillful, polished communication skills to increase their impact and influence. Her clients range from the country’s largest and most prestigious employers to public figures and individual professionals. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.