I know I’ve heard the joke a thousand times that some people rank public speaking above death on their list of fears so technically speaking, at a funeral, those people would rather be in the casket than giving the obituary. I can imagine that this would be true for some people, but not really for me. I’m still undecided on where I would put public speaking on my list of fears. It’s up there, but it’s definitely under death.
What’s not to be scared about public speaking? You’re infront of people who are listening (hopefully) intently to what you’re saying, and they would (you’d think) be able to detect you every screw up. This is especially true if you’re giving a presentation on what you did that summer; trying to prove your worth as an intern, and potentially competing with the other interns for that sought-after full-time offer. You’re out on the plank, all eyes are on you, all the pressure is on you.
But then you get up there, you take a look around at the room of managers and supervisors, and all that pressure seems to just give way to adrenaline. At least for me. At least if you’ve practiced enough and you have confidence in your message. It’s hard to forget things that you’ve been working on for the past couple of months. You have an idea you want to convey, you have your speaking points, and you have the support of literally hours of rehearsal and practice… I mean the presentation is only seven minutes long. Shouldn’t be that hard right?
I had been practicing all day leading up to the presentation and practiced the entire night before. It had taken some time, but I had gotten the presentation down perfectly and had recited it flawlessly in the empty practice boardrooms just minutes before the real presentation. But those eyes… boy do they have an effect on you. I may have been running on adrenaline but it felt like time was going so slowly. When you have practiced your presentation many times and have it more or less completely memorized, it can become robotic. You can say words without really thinking about them – purely from muscle memory. Everything was going smoothly until I got to the end. The thing about muscle memory is that it leaves your brain some extra time to think, a little extra time to psych yourself out. I got to the last slide and I froze for what seemed like forever. I paused, looked around the room, and hesitated. Racking my brain to come up with the right words. I looked down at my speaking notes in shame, thinking I was so close to making it all the way without using them, resumed my spot, and kept on going until the end.
I was ready to meet my maker in the managers’ feedback. I thought for sure they would roast me for that slip up. Turns out it wasn’t so bad. As always, what seems like an eternity up there is an infintisimal amount of time in the audience. I should have covered it up better though and that will be something to take forward in the future. I just so badly wanted to say everything I had to say and not skip over any points.
Some good feedback and some constructive feedback later, I found myself walking back to my seat, the whole ordeal over. Only three weeks until I have to give the presentation again, but this time, for the executives. Time to run with the feedback, improve my presentation, and practice even more.