Over my career I’ve given exactly 295 public presentations, to audiences as small as a table full and up to many thousands. Audience members have said countless times that they really enjoy my speeches. Conference organizers always invite me back, and my feedback scores are always amongst the highest. These are accomplishments I’m proud of and a level of success only achieved with the help of a lot of dedicated people. You might think that after all this experience that I’m extremely comfortable on stage. The reality is that you’d be wrong, very wrong. What most don’t know is that each and every time I’ve present, to this day, I suffer from extreme anxiety, commonly known as stage fright. In my case, terrified would be a more accurate description.
I’ve been known to physically shake, have shortness of breath and a strained voice, speak far too quickly, be statuesque on stage almost like I’m hiding, and feel just overall completely stressed out. Early on I decided that no matter how terrified I was, my message needed to get out there, and it was more important than letting fear stop me. I think my #1 skill as a public speaker is hiding my fear, my terror. My theory was the more experience I gained the faster I’d overcome it. In the meantime in order to cope I developed a pre-presentation ritual.
I’d prepare heavily for each event, pour over the content in every slide, and seek candid feedback from those I trusted. I’d also commonly ask event organizer for details on audience demographics to specifically tailor my comments. I’d then practice ahead of time for small private groups in order to get the timing and flow down. If something or all of it sucked, I’d throw it out. With the assistance of my wife, I’d even get a plan down for precisely what I was going to wear during at show day. Nothing was left to chance. Finally, I block out an hour before each presentation to check out the stage, be alone with time to center, prepare and calm myself down, and of course continue tweaking slides. Being prepared helped take the edge off my anxiety a lot.
The problem was, or is, that no matter how many times I presented, the anxiety, the fear, and terror never really lessened. That is until this last year. Something changed, but what!? Had I finally overcome? I’m not an introspective person so it wasn’t until very recently that I think I figured it out. In 2011 my public presentations weren’t pushing the envelope as much as in years past. The content was good to be sure, but it also focused on “safe” business level subjects and incrementally advancing work from previous years. In short, I really wasn’t putting myself out there as far as I’m used to. In my case, the feeling or fear and terror arises when pushing forth an idea or a concept and unsure if people will think its uncompelling or totally idiotic. A chance you take.
That’s about when I got a call from the TED offering a speaking slot in TEDxMaui. We got to talking about my work and discussing an idea worth spreading. It didn’t take long. Then all of a sudden I’m thrust right back into fear and terror mode, but now that I understand it, the feeling is almost comforting. It signals that I have an opportunity to take things in my industry, in our industry, to a new level --- or of course drive right off a cliff. Either way it’ll be a good show! :)