I was talking with a fellow attendee at a recent conference who was surprised to learn about the nerves I get prior to presenting. They thought it must be completely natural for me to get up and present. When I mentioned that wasn’t the case, they encouraged me to write a post about it. I thought that was a great idea, so here we are!
I agonize over my presentation. Developing a presentation takes me months of work. I can certainly throw something together in a couple of days if I need to, but writing something that I’m really pleased with is a very long endeavor for me. I’m quite jealous of people who can whip together amazing presentations quickly. For me, it takes a long time. Even now, the talk I’m developing to give at UIKonf next month is based on an idea I’ve been stewing on for over three years.
I also tend to obsess over details. Once my presentation content is “done” (if it can ever truly be said to be done), I spend several more hours going through the whole thing over and over again in Keynote. I check that my fonts are consistent; that the colors are all the same palette; that the various animations have the right flow; that the transitions match the content and speak to the flow of the story; that I have to click the remote to advance at the right place; and many more things.
If you observe me at a conference where I’m scheduled to speak, you’ll likely find me staring at my laptop, arrowing through the slides, and muttering to myself under my breath.
Before getting on-stage, I have to do some things to calm myself of nerves. Yes, I get nervous! Who wouldn’t? I feel a lot of pressure to give the best delivery I can. All of the attendees at that conference have paid a lot of money to come, and I feel the pressure to make sure they’re getting value out of my presentation.
First, I have to completely remove all potential distractions off my person. No Apple Watch. No iPhone in my pocket. No car keys, and no wallet. No jewelry. Nothing that could ever cause me discomfort and distract me from giving the presentation.
Next, I have to have some time to myself. Even if it’s just a few minutes, I tend to stand off to the side of the room (or in a speaker prep area, for example) and collect my thoughts. I try to clear my mind of all the other distractions I deal with, and focus on the flow of the presentation. I remind myself of word choices I want to make and examples I want to give.
Finally, I have to give myself a little pep talk and psych myself up. I have to remind myself how much time I’ve put in to that and tell myself that “you’ve put so much time in to this therefore it will be good”. I remind myself that I’ve given this before and it went well then, so therefore my worrying is illogical and I need let that worry go. This doesn’t always work.
When I advise other people on how to present, there are a few things I tell them to do.
I tell them to pause and take drinks of water. I almost always forget to do this myself.
I also tell them to not keep their arms next to their bodies; that it’s ok to gesticulate wildly. It feels weird, but it looks fine from the audience’s point-of-view. I always forget this and keep my arms firmly anchored at my side, and then just gesture with my forearms. And every time I get off-stage, I think “I could’ve done better about not doing that.”
When I’m up on stage, I desperately need to get feedback from the audience. Sometimes it’s people lifting up their phones to take a picture of a slide. Sometimes it’s the murmurs I hear rustling through the crowd. I feed off the energy of the audience, and this drives my presentation. Without it, I tend to get discouraged and my presentation suffers from it. This is part of what drives me to make the best possible presentation I can. I figure that if it’s not the best I can do, then it’s not going to be as interesting, which means (to me) it’s doomed before it even begins.
Usually, things turn out fine. But I still worry. 😃