Lately, I’m suffering from some kind of public presentation anxiety. I still present in front of audiences, because that is something that I have to do for my work, but I don’t have the level of confidence that I used to have.
It started with a couple of presentations I had to do not too long ago. And in my experience I had messed up. Once for a group of elected officials. An unexpected question threw we off completely and made me nervous, after which I was not able to regain control of what I wanted to convey, which made me even more nervous.
Another time was in front of a group of big time funders. I thought it went pretty well, but I found out later that someone in the audience had said to someone else: “Better not let that German guy present again.” I’m not even German!
In a search for some feedback, I did not really get anywhere and not sure what went wrong. Perhaps my presentation was not all that together or perhaps I used too much of the filler word “um”.
It wasn’t always like that. I taught classes, spoke on panels, did TV interviews, and addressed large audiences, with great success. Or at least I believed they were successful. But after these recent episodes, I’m not so sure any longer.
Public speaking is one of the biggest fears people have. Many are even more afraid of speaking in public than dying! That being said, what am I complaining about? I’m just one of many and what I deal with is very human.
True, but the ability to address an audience successfully is important to me personally and in my work. For my work it can sometimes mean the difference between receiving funding or getting $0 dollars. For me personally, I need to regain this confidence as part of the self expression I desire. I want to delve a bit more into that.
If you meet me for the first time, I might come across as a bit stiff and restrained. Not being able to keep a conversation going, chit chatting, etc. I have always envied people that can do that. Not the ones that just yap on and bore you with every little detail without any consideration for the person they are in conversation with.
I am referring to people who display a genuine interest in others, know how to actively listen, bring up topics that are interesting for the conversation partner, recap, reflect back, etc. And I know I have that ability. It’s just boiling inside of me to come out. I have so much to share and can have profound opinions that matter, but it just doesn’t come out!
It is the opinions that I have about myself that are the biggest barrier. I tend to believe that I am not a very interesting person. It makes total sense that this will reflect in first time conversations and public speaking opportunities.
But I had an epiphany! A couple of columns ago, I wrote about how I would start singing again as a means to find my passion. I did start as promised and it seems to be working! Last Monday, during a session at a decent size studio, my vocal coach told me to sing “My Funny Valentine” using the entire space. Not just filling it with my voice, but also with my facial expressions, and literally using the space moving around.
That was so uncomfortable for me! In addressing an imaginary audience, I tried to bring across a feeling of longing and romance through my facial expressions and gesticulation, but instead my body tensed up and when I observed myself in the mirrors it looked as if I was suffering from a bad case of constipation.
Although able to hit all the notes, my vocal coach told me that he did not hear any emotional connection to the song. Makes total sense if only my vocal cords do all of the work. When body language and mind are not aligned with the voice, it is not going to entertain anyone and the audience will be bored stiff.
What am I so afraid off? The only person present at that time was the vocal coach and he has probably seen it all and he is there to help me! Now that I mention it, it is not even other people, because I even avoid singing by myself when home alone!
I truly am the only person who is in the way of my self expression and no-one else! I think too much and do not let my feelings and emotions speak. How to resolve? Just do it! Go flat on your face trying. Get up and do it again. Make a fool of yourself. Let people criticize you. Persist. Try something that you haven’t tried before. Did I already mention to get up and do it again?
Easier said than done, but do you really think that it will come easy? If that was the case, we would all be rich and famous by now. The good news is, that it is not really hard to do. It’s not some skill like brain surgery you have to master. It’s a matter of just doing without thinking about it too much.
It’s just (very) uncomfortable and it requires overcoming fear of failing and being judged, criticized, ridiculed, etc. By the way, this does not only apply to self-expression but to almost every aspect of life that we deal with.
I hold in. I am restrained. Instead of being afraid of presenting in public, finding or changing jobs, finishing that study, starting a company, or whatever it is that we are avoiding, I was hoping that from now on we all decide that the only thing we are afraid off is fear itself. Starting with myself.
I know, it sounds corny, but that is what it is. Period.