It’s no secret that the first ten minutes of physical exercise are enough to conquer the faint-hearted but, for those with the tenacity to persevere, there builds a blissful momentum that equates to engaging top gear in a car.
It’s the same with presenting, every time.
Course participants often ask me whether it gets easier with experience – well, yes and no. Do the nerves ever go away? No, not if you still care about your presentations. Do they still have the same effect? No, the effect will change as we gain momentum and familiarity with the process. But what remains true is that every presentation is another chance to reach an audience and to shift someone’s perception.
There’s nothing quite so rewarding in my experience than watching a group of people move from A to B.
At point A, the audience may be sceptical, anxious, resistant, uninterested, curious or, if you’re lucky, eager to listen. But at this point they have very little in common and no idea what’s about to happen. Yet they have expectations, although it’s impossible for the speaker to know precisely what those would be.
It’s partly this uncertainty that makes speaking so thrilling and terrifying in equal measure.
Looking back, I find it hard to recall the overwhelming stage fright that marked the beginning of my career as a presenter. Yet I witness it time and again in the eyes and trembles of my students and coachees.
The greatest advice I was given as a young professional speaker was this:
As you walk to the stage, seize the authority because the audience has given it to you.
If you decline to accept that authority, your audience will sense it and feel disappointed and you will lose their attention before you even speak a word. We know ourselves from listening to speakers how transparent their nerves can be. We know the difference between someone who feels they belong in front of an audience and someone praying for the earth to open up and put them out of their misery.
But when you embrace the authority, you declare yourself eligible for the responsibility of maintaining their attention, steering their thoughts, reasoning a convincing case and inviting a new perspective. This, after all, is precisely why they came.
So next time you rise to speak in public, give yourself to the challenge. Be ready for the pain barrier and keep pedalling. You have ideas, information and inspiration that the world is ready to hear.