Presentation Paralysis: Part I

Dear Aunt Bossy,

I understand you teach people how to give speeches and do public speaking. What can you recommend for me? I am more terrified of this than anything else in my life.


My boss is losing confidence in me because I always come up with an excuse for not going to a meeting where I will have to get up and talk in front of everybody. I am just fine with one or two people, but a group brings me to a halt. I can’t admit to him the reason for my absence.

I know this is a common fear, but mine is the worst. I sweat and shake. My mouth gets dry and I forget everything I was going to say.

Please help me. It might sound stupid but this is ruining my life right now.

Desperate Dan

Dear DD,

Oh, my. I am so happy to have an opportunity to do what I like best: coach a speaker. Thank you.

There is a lot to cover, so I’d like to address this subject over the next three Aunt Bossys. Stick with me. You will have homework.

There are two main factors in presentation skills: physical and mental, including the emotional, which seems to be your roadblock.

Let’s start with that, the fear. Once you get going with good physical skills and understand how to handle your message and content, your fear will naturally lessen. In the meantime, however, it will LOOM. You can’t allow that monster in your head to control you.

You have to stop thinking about yourself! Yeah, I know, but that is the secret. Every time you think about how frightened you are and start feeling nervous, just say, (out loud if necessary) “Shut Up! This is about getting information out to people who need it.”

Begin by coming up with something to say. (Breathe. This is the easy part!)

You have worked hard to know what you know. You got education or experience or something that puts you in the position to share that knowledge. YOUR MESSAGE IS YOUR GIFT TO YOUR AUDIENCE! That is the most important advice about your content.

Never forget you know your stuff. If I stopped you in the parking lot and asked you about your latest project or what you think your colleagues would find interesting about your work, or what you think would make your non-profit better, you would talk long enough for me to start trying to figure out how to get away.

In other words, do not worry about y our content. It is in your head. We just have to get it out your mouth.

One of the biggest mistakes people make in giving presentations is memorizing their thoughts. If you lose your place, you are doomed. Also, repeating something you memorized doesn’t sound like authentic communication.

Here we go:

Set up the camera on your phone or iPad, and, with little thought, look into your own eyes and talk. Say what you know is important for your probable audience to know. Don’t worry about how long this goes on. Once you figure you have covered the basics of your message, stop. Don’t say ‘baa-baa’ if “baa” will do.

Now, watch the video and look and listen for what you like. Take notes if you’d like. Ok, now do it again. And again. And again. Three times is the right number of “takes” in the beginning. Don’t focus on what you don’t like. Your stomach won’t get flat and your nose won’t straighten just because you are self-deprecating.

Do the video exercise again the next day. Keep doing it until you think you sound intelligent, and on target. It will be slightly different each time, which is a good thing because it gives you practice saying a variety of things on the same subject.

Remember, you will never be able to tell people everything about your subject, so choose what comes naturally to you in your enthusiasm to share your knowledge.

Do NOT share this video with anyone. If they love you, they will tell you that it’s great. If they don’t or are jealous, they will find something ego shattering to throw you off. You can email it to me, if you would like. I’ll tell you the truth. For free. I’m obsessed with the value of this.

But, really, you will know the truth after a few days.

Once you are fairly satisfied that you are covering the relevant material, come up with examples or stories illustrating your thoughts. For example, “When we put together this plan, we approached it like we would approach a ski slope. We assessed the incline, the conditions, our expertise, and then we pushed off, and whizzed right to the place where they serve hot cider.” You can ask colleagues or friends for ideas on this.

Get to work. Next time, we will have you looking and sounding like a fellow who is eager to share his knowledge.