Today I gave my first ever, honest-to-goodness, fielding questions, pretending-I-actually-knew-what-I’m-talking-about, PowerPoint presentation before a fairly large group.
I was part of a technical writing team that consults at an international corporation. To start the project we have to set standards and practices for their document procedure writing.
My section of the PowerPoint was Writing and Language. I got to speak on things like active versus passive voice, write it like you say it, and keep it simple and short.
A little background: I am not a presenter. Never have been, probably never will be. Even as far back as high school I feared public speaking and was able to convince the teachers that my fear was nearly deliberating and more often than not they’d let me slide on the class presentations. Now, many years later, I wish they had forced me to do it just for the experience.
So I fear public speaking. Some people fear snakes. Some spiders. Some heights. Some flying. I myself have many phobias to speak of, but public speaking, talking before people I don’t know, terrifies me.
It goes beyond sweaty palms. My heart races. I get a whooshing in my ears. I become lightheaded. I stutter and stumble and have complete amnesia about what I want to say. Even if it’s something I actually know, my brain just locks up like an unreliable hard drive needing a reboot. Unlike many people, if I don’t have my notes written exactly as I say them, I just mumble over it. In other words, I can’t use note cards with key phrases because I’ll just look at it and go, “`Use active voice?’ What the hell does that mean?” I need it spelled out in detail.
Since I started at this consultation firm back in April, however, I have had to give presentations. Nothing major, something they call a “sales tour” where you present your work history from the last 3 years in front of all the account managers. In addition, I have had to meet new people and I’ve been put into new situations.
I used to take weeks, when starting a new job, to come out of my shell and talk to people. (When I first started dating my wife her relatives kept asking, “Does he talk?” whereas now they say, “Won’t he shut the hell up?”) Taking time is a luxury I don’t have with a consulting firm and it’s forcing me to open up sooner.
I used to, when waiting for my turn to present something, get nervous, as we all do. This would manifest itself as a pressure in my chest and my head that increased the closer it came to my turn. My hands would shake and sweat would run from places I didn’t even know could sweat.
Today, however, I just felt a little apprehensive. I fidgeted and that was about it. When my turn came I got up there and gave my presentation without the normal whoosh-whoosh of blood in the ears or hearing my own voice crack. I still felt self-conscious. I still thought I was making mistakes and making a fool of myself. But that was all just in my head.
I did fine, or so they tell me.
Which, I think is pretty cool, because when my book finally sells and I have to go on whirl-wind signing tours, I’ll be able to handle meeting all my fans and instead of:
“Are you Ed Pahule?”
“I’m like your biggest fan!”
“I just love your book.”
I’ll be able to interact with them and give lucid responses.
OK, maybe lucid responses are a bit much to expect, but at least I won’t sweat all over the books and make the ink run.