It was in 2005. I was really interested in the Law of Attraction at the time and felt I knew a lot about it.
And that prompts lesson #1 – just because we know a lot about a subject doesn’t mean we’re able to give a good presentation about it!
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Anyway, I arranged an early evening event and planned to co-present with a friend. We booked a room in the centre of Madrid, sent out lots of invitations and got about 30 people confirmed.
Not bad for a first presentation.
And that’s the thing – it was the very first presentation of my life!
So, in my happy ignorance of the complexities of presenting and public speaking, I prepared the presentation – pulling together a few impressive pictures of the universe and energy etc. I was ‘ready’. Or so I thought.
On the night, I started well, (I think). But about 5 minutes into the talk it started to go wrong. All of a sudden, it was like my brain didn’t work, or not my rational, thinking brain at least! I can remember looking in dismay at some of the people in the audience; they were fidgeting, looking uncomfortable, avoiding eye contact.
What was happening is that they were feeling empathy for me. Empathy translated into embarrassment.
Because I had become completely blocked! Finally, my co-presenter stepped in and began doing his bit. I’d been rescued!
What do I know now that I didn’t know then?
- I know that I should have prepared MUCH better. All I did was prepare some images on a slide.
- I should have also rehearsed; I didn’t.
- I know now that when you’re in front of an audience your thinking brain functions much less effectively. It’s the emotional brain that kicks in, assessing the situation as a threat, the threat being that people are judging you and judging you negatively. We need to know this and be prepared for it.
- I know that it’s vital to stay in the moment, to focus your energy outwards towards the audience rather than focusing it inwards and becoming very self-conscious.
- And I know that the best strategy when getting blocked is to pause, breathe and with a smile announce to the audience that you’re going to change this into a Q & A session. Because if you really know your topic, answering questions and interacting naturally with the audience takes away the pressure. It allows you to complete your objective – sharing the knowledge that so inspires you and that you hope can help others.
I certainly learned a lesson from my most embarrassing moment. And the thing is, I was presenting in English which is my native language! The possibility of getting anxious and blocked when presenting in a second language is even greater.
Building your self-confidence is so important there is a dedicated module of my Presentation Foundations for Future Leaders course to it.
I hope my story helps you to better deal with preparing and delivering a presentation.
Do you have any lessons learned in past presentations you would like to share with me?