First I was afraid, I was petrified…

Keynote speak at TechEd EMEA 2007

Keynote speak at TechEd EMEA 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seemed like a long time before I heard my introduction. I threaded my way through the round tables surrounded by delegates. I took special care when I stepped up onto the stage. The last thing I wanted to do was fall over and make a tit of myself in front of hundreds of people. I took my place and turned to face the audience. They stretched off into the distance. Behind me were giant screens showing my presentation and I had a gizmo in my hand to work the slide deck.

I started my presentation. I could hear my voice, small and trembling, amplified by the lapel microphone. Why was my voice trembling? My heart started to bounce around my ribcage at alarming speed. words tumbled out at a million miles an hour. It was only then I realised how nervous I was. Although I was no stranger to presentations, my subconscious mind decided that this one was different and a sensible survival strategy was escape at the earliest opportunity.

This was the first presentation I gave to a large audience and as I made the long walk back to my seat, I convinced myself that I made a mess of it. During the breakout session afterwards, someone sought me out and congratulated me for doing a good job. I gracefully accepted her praise, but inside I was far from convinced. But she wasn’t alone. By the end of the day, I had praise from quite a few.

This taught me a few things. Firstly, no matter how nervous you are, it never looks as bad as you think to your audience. Despite the little voice inside your head telling you otherwise, they are not waiting for you to make a fool of yourself. They want you to succeed. Even if they do detect any nerves, they are more interested in what you have to say. The other thing I learned that day is to never, ever let your boss persuade you to ditch the presentation you prepared and practised to rewrite it the night before showtime.

As soon as another opportunity to present to a large audience came up, I grabbed it. It was important to me that I improved. My voice still trembled, and so did my hand which wasn’t good because I had a hand-held microphone this time. It was most disconcerting to see it wobbling around right in front of me. I managed to slow down though and I was much happier with the presentation.

Nowadays – I’m relaxed about presenting on stage to large audiences. I still get nervous and I think I always will, but it all adds to the spice of life.