Do we realize that the best of presenters or the best of speakers are probably just as nervous as any other person? But they are also confident. They are confident of their subject, they are confident of their preparation and most importantly they are confident about presenting in front of the audience. So what are they nervous about? They are nervous about those things that are not in their control. The possibility of technical snags, the possibility of some indifferent member in the audience who hijacks the session and the possibility of changes in schedule.
However the people with stage fear, the people who given the smallest chance run away from the stage, are nervous about everything around them. They seem to go blank the moment they step on stage. And when they manage to start their presentation, their ordeal includes mumbling, rushing through the slides, uttering more foghorns & fillers than meaningful words, sweating and fidgeting, leaving the audience bored and wanting to leave.
As a trainer who conducts presentation skills training, who gives presentation tips and trains people on how to give a presentation, I belong to the first group of people I mentioned who are nervous about the things that are not in their control. But that is not how I was when I started my career. During the initial stages, as a trainer (17 years ago), my presentation skills I used to find all possible excuses to avoid getting on stage. And finally when I was forced to present, I did everything on stage that would either put the audience to sleep or leave them laughing; laughing at my strange mannerisms on stage. When I was on the verge of giving up presenting for the rest of my life I suddenly remembered what my athletics coach in school used to say about preparation before a race. I was a 400 meters runner. I used to be extremely nervous before the start of the race. Hence, a day before one of the athletics meets I was part of, my coach took me to the track and made me visualize the race. Visualizing the warm up before the race, nailing the starting block on the track, the smell of the tarmac, listening to the silence before the gun shot, the thunderous sound of the gun shot, the grunt of all athletes while jumping out of their blocks, the sound of spikes piercing the track, running on the curve, the faint sound of the spectators yelling at the top of their voice, the final burst of speed approaching the finish line, the final thrust towards the finishing tape and the elation of winning gold. My coach asked me to repeat the entire visualization at least 20 times. And believe me the reality was every bit like how I had visualized barring the gold. Gold or no gold, I had conquered my nervousness before a race.
I decided to put this visualization method to test to overcome nervousness in order to make it an effective presentation. I took the last seat in the auditorium the day before one of those dreaded business presentations. I visualized the chattering of 50 people who were gathered, the smell of room freshner, the odd smell of the microphone, the glare due to the spotlight, the sound of silence before the start of my presentation, the joke that I would use to start my presentation, the laughter of 50 odd people to my joke proving that at least they understood what I meant, the smile of approval on the faces of the people in the front row, the softness of the thick carpet under my feet while I moved around the stage, my voice going to a new decibel when I was closing my presentation (which I never thought was possible on stage), the rasping sound of people clapping and the swagger while I walked off stage. I visualized this at least 50 times.
The rest as they say is history.