In July 1997, I started working at a chemical corporation as a risk engineer. Soon after moving from Canada to the corporate office in Texas, I realized that my job would require frequent presentations to upper management and other groups, such as property insurance carriers. I knew my subject matter inside-out, but the main hurdle for me was anxiety. The night before my presentation I would toss and turn, trying to get to sleep. My brain would stay switched on, mentally delivering my presentation. I would be annoyed and frustrated with my inability to sleep and tell my brain, “I need to sleep- shut off for goodness sake!” I would focus my brain to think of something else, but it would revert back to the presentation in no time at all. I would peer at the clock- midnight, 3 am, 5 am, and then I would get the 6 am radio alarm clock going off. I would look at myself in the mirror as I brushed my teeth and see a picture of misery. Bags under my eyes, furrowed brow, brain already in a flustered state, stomach unsettled. In the kitchen I would stare at my coffee mug, trying to work out the ingredients for instant coffee and what order to put them in. On one occasion, I was driving away from the house with anxiety pushing up into my chest when brown liquid started to flow down my windshield. I pulled over to discover I had put my travel coffee mug up on the roof while putting my laptop bag in the trunk, and had inadvertently forgotten to take it down upon entering the car.
Fast forward a few hours and I would be standing in front of upper management, and my presentation would chug along, but when questions were asked, my brain would freeze with lack of sleep and anxiety. My answers would not be suitably detailed and cohesive. Afterwards, I would scold myself, “You knew the answer to the question, why didn’t you give them the details?” I was crashing and burning, and getting noticed in a very bad way.
Soon afterwards, I lined myself up to take public speaking night classes, and then I joined a public speaking club so that I could become an expert. It did not take long to understand how to deal with public speaking anxiety, and even use it to my benefit. At some stage, I realized that I was actually having fun presenting, and found myself volunteering to present information, mentor people, and conduct training.
Considerations for anxiety reduction:
1. Know your subject
2. Know your outline
3. Prepare, prepare, prepare
4. Hydrate – drink lots of water at least 2 hours before your presentation and have some water available during your presentation in case you get “cotton-mouth”
5. Do not drink coffee, dairy products, or iced water (dairy products and iced water can diminish the capability of your vocal cords)
6. Imagine yourself being successful
7. Tell your brain, “What’s the worst thing that can happen (you will not die!)”.
8. Have a back-up plan in case any audio-visual equipment fails
9. Have backup notes in case you get a mind- blank
10. Arrive early to deal with the unexpected
11. Use a cotton undershirt to minimize sweat leak-through
12. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes
13. Walk prior to your presentation, listen to music, imagine yourself being successful
14. Prior to your presentation, take deep breaths from your diaphragm
15. I have heard some people say that pressing their knees together just prior to the presentation takes the anxiety edge off
16. Remember- some anxiety is good; it is your body’s natural response to give you energy