Do presentations scare you to death? It’s time to lower the stakes

Imagine you walk into a room for a presentation that could make or break your career. As you stand in front of your boss, you feel your shoulders tense up, butterflies in your stomach and a lump in your throat.

Being in the spotlight

There’s a popular piece of saying about how public speaking is more feared than dying itself.

You’re put under the spotlight and all eyes are on you. There is no hiding behind the computer screen; whatever you say cannot be taken back.

Worst still, you are not just judged for the content of your speech but also the way you deliver it.

The big open sea

How did you learn to swim when you were young?

It’s likely that you first waded in the shallow end of the pool, got comfortable with water, then learnt some basic breathing techniques.

What if instead of a gentle introduction to swimming, you were thrown into the big open sea and left to sink or swim? Even if you survived, you’d likely be traumatised by the experience.

Most people’s approach to overcoming their speaking fears is like learning how to swim by starting out in the big open sea.

Not only are you trying to get better in that short period of time, you are also battling the stress, the anxiety boiling down to an important event.

In a company presentation, it means making a bad impression.

In a tech conference, it means wasting a chance at building your brand.

In a group discussion, it means not being able to get your point across.

Lowering the stakes

The last thing you need is to be fighting internally against the consequences of not speaking / presenting well.

When I first started trying to express myself more, it was daunting. I remember freezing up whenever it was my turn to speak in a group.

I tried to force myself to put aside the anxiety but it was like banging my head against a wall.

What eventually worked for me was practicing to speak up when the stakes are low.

I joined Toastmasters and hosted small events.

I talked to random strangers on the streets for a few months.

I attended meetups, striking up conversations with the organisers.

The fear and awkwardness was still there initially but there were no adverse consequences, no expectations.

If I failed, the embarrassment was contained.

Incremental vs. big bang

So start early and start small in your practice. Try going for incremental improvements rather than just practicing for that one single upcoming presentation.

You will be so much more prepared when the time comes 🙂

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