If you’re reading this, you’re probably already very much aware that a fear of public speaking or presenting in large groups is more common than a fear of death or disease or apocalypse. You’re even probably searching the internet for tips on how to stop being so nervous and give an amazing speech. Being perfectly honest, I’d rather be stung by a million bees (to which I have a slight but annoying allergy and a more developed phobia) than stand up in front of ten people and give a speech.
I’ve never been a comfortable public speaker, descending into a red-faced, shakey panic, tears streaming down my face as I gasp like a beached shark, struggling to breathe. For example, in the eighth grade, we had to do small speeches in class about a short story we had read. Very simple, maybe two minutes. Easy.
I don’t remember making my speech because I disassociated the second I had to start talking. All I remember is that, when we left class, this kid Rocco said “Wow, you’re basically a fire hydrant.” He was referring to the fact that my face was scarlet and I was leaking tears. Not my best moment. And I can’t tell you that it got any better through high school or college. It actually got worse. But, like most people who defined themselves as a writer, I had no intention of entering into any career that forced me to interact with others or give presentations. Teacher, me? No. So I had nothing to worry about.
Until I did. It was here at Penn Foster, actually. We were in a training class and part of the learning process included putting together a (gasp) presentation on an assigned chapter. There were less than ten people in this class, including the person training us. I made a great powerpoint, super pretty! And I stood up in front of these people I was getting to know, people I knew would be nice however much I stumbled… and I felt that shake start to work its way from my hands to my voice and this oppressive heat seemed to envelope my face. I barely made it through a five minute presentation in which I basically read information from a slide the entire time. After that class, the trainer stopped me on the way to lunch and, being an introvert like myself, assured me that he knew how I felt. He sympathized but then he mentioned something that changed things---not drastically, mind you---but just enough. He said, “You’re smart and you can do some really awesome things. But if you don’t learn how to present or give a speech, you may not go very far. Being able to present confidently is a big deal.”
Guys, it is, unfortunately, a big deal. Unless you’re looking to start a sort of Cyrano de Bergerac relationship with a coworker who will get credit for your work and ideas because they can actually form words in front of a crowd.... We need to learn to cope with this fear of failure or attention that holds us back at work. I’m getting better and I’m definitely a messy work in progress on this front. Before I did start making limited progress, I had to figure out why it even matters. I’ve no plans to be an executive; my goals don’t lean toward leadership like that. But being able to present your thoughts and plans in a coherent, professional manner can mean the difference between a promotion you’ve been hoping for or being stuck in the same position forever.
So, why is it important to be comfortable with presentations and speeches? The reasons can vary based on your field but, generally, you can boil it down to a few things. The first thing is that if you can’t confidently present an idea or plan you’ve worked hard on, no one is going to take that plan seriously. If you hesitate when speaking about it, blush and stammer and pick at your nails while trying to point out the data on slide twelve that supports your work, your listeners are going to tune it out.
“What did you say? Budget projections blah blah blah, what’s everyone doing for lunch?”
If you want your ideas and thoughts taken seriously, you need to be able to present them. If you want action to be taken on something you’ve planned, you also need to be confident enough in your presentation and your manner to answer any and all questions that come up. If you can’t answer a valid question, your project or idea isn’t going anywhere.
Finally, it’s important to be a confident speaker because if you have career goals, you need to be able to make those happen. No job fairy godmother will stop by to miraculously move you to the department you’ve dreamt of working in. YOU have to make that happen. Speaking confidently will encourage others to take you seriously and remember you.
Can I say that knowing these things made me a miraculously magnificent speaker? Absolutely not. I still shake and I may leak a tear or two afterward in relief (that’s a secret, though!), but progress is not being perfect. It’s constantly working to get better. I may shake but I remember my speech after I’ve made it. Progress.
Are these things going to help you? I can’t guarantee that. But it may help you start thinking about what’s holding you back. I don’t want to lose a chance at a dream; this is what encouraged me to try to work on speaking in front of a crowd. I don’t want a foolish limitation that’s based on fear to hold me back from getting where I want to go. Why should you?