Yes, even professional presenters need help!
My mother’s presentation reflections upon retirement, I wish you were there!
A successful businesswoman, my mother, confided in me that she gets terribly nervous when presenting, though she has done it for over 30 years. Have you ever spoken to someone who seems to perform at almost a perfect level, suddenly admitting facts about their internal world that makes them seem human?? My mother is that high performing, perfectionist, yet the kind and likable type. Through her political savvy, consistent record of adding value to customers and her skillful understanding of internal supply chains and power players she got a sales territory that stretched so far that it had to wrap around the globe from the Americas to Australia. But her success did not mean she did not fear failure, especially when presenting.
In between my massive bites of delicious beef with condiment covered veggies my mother was reflecting on her career with me. Burger Girl Diner was just one of the many restaurants we went to on our latest mother-son excursion.
My accomplished mother is freshly retired and as she reflected to me about her career path, I shared with her my new adventure of teaching people essential presentation and other oration skills such as crafting and structuring messages. During our back-and-forth conversation she admitted that though she was presenting one to five times a day to internal employees and external clients she still got nervous. She gave several reasons, but a big one was because of embarrassing early experiences in her career where she faced critical feedback without a constructive proposal. As a result, internal presentations were the scariest for her. There she had to inform a well-informed audience within her company. Similarly, she got nervous when trying to represent her company’s product and service to customers external to the company.
Now I can understand someone being asked to speak at a wedding and being nervous, we aren’t asked to speak on such weighty and personal matters often. In fact, I just coached a chief of staff in how to officiate a wedding and I sympathized with her shaky hands and voice.
But why would a woman with nearly 40 years of industry experience, and over 10 years of rapport with the same company still get nervous when she speaks in front of family coworkers and customers? She gave three major reasons, maybe you can relate.
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First, she said, she still has intrusive voices from early in her career of coworkers that critiqued her presentations and hoped she would fail. This early experience in her career still has poisonous effects upon her psyche when presenting to internal employees. Though she was friendly with her coworkers, it is often when the stakes are lowest, when no sale is on the line, that people can be the pettiest. Thus, she felt the pressure to please whether reporting on her latest product proposals, or in a happy hour where she felt she could be exposed to unfair criticism.
Second, my mother’s anxiety was due to the pressure of relaying familiar information to a well-informed audience. I bet you can relate to this as well. I know I worry the most about presenting to an audience who is very familiar with the subject I am presenting on. They will be the best informed on the details of the message as well as the different interpretations or stances one could take on that information. My mother described her audience as busy, well informed, and impatient within her company. These internal presentations were by far the ones that gave my mother the most trouble.
Let’s see if you have felt the same. Think of the last time you prefaced a statement with the phrase, “I know you already know this but…” Boom, we undermine our message preemptively when we speak to someone who already knows a lot about the subject. It’s natural, deep down we hope to be helpful to others, but worry we won’t be good enough to. This phenomenon expresses itself more readily when we speak to an audience we perceive as well educated and tough. My mother assumed that coworkers were her toughest critics because of the unjust and cruel experiences early in her life. But what compounded the issue for her was she was speaking to a very well-informed audience about her software education product and technical service. Within her division, everyone needs to understand what each other does and how they explain what they do. But the worry is that when explaining those facts, it feels unimpressive. A bad sales call or a missed close can hurt your number for the quarter, but perceived incompetence by coworkers and bosses can get you canned. My mother’s perceived pressure made sense, and it expressed itself in a cracking voice, trembling hands and knocking knees. However, there were good reasons to suspect these worries were overblown. She was loved by all the friends, family and acquaintances I’ve ever known, but still felt on the cusp of rejection every time she presented.
Third, my mother had to bear with dread every time she had to present before customers and potential clients. My mom hates feeling inauthentic. I bet you do too. She worked for Dell because she loved providing software education because that technology is integral to employees using it so they can effectively utilize the tools that will help out compete their competition and best serve their customers. But even helpful products and services can get a bad rap as a “bill of goods.”
That point can be illustrated every time I look at the teeth whitening paste in my bathroom or the posture correcting contraption gathering dust in my closet. The point is that humans can easily be convinced to fork over hard-earned cash for a false promise if they believe it. Those experiences have led people to be suspicious of salespeople and marketing schemes.
But that’s not the kind of saleswoman my mom is. She delivers solutions that improve people’s lives. My mother has a serious story of success in tragic circumstances that she loves to share. When the twin towers fell back in 9/11 in 2001 most companies’ data perished along with their employees in that fiery wreck. Except, the data that was stored within the servers my mother sold the company’s that would listen. While their building and even more importantly, employees perished, their data was restored and were able to resume business as usual within 24 hours. Many companies lost their data forever. My mom’s product worked, even through a catastrophic disaster. But no matter the strength of the product, a person can feel like a phony. My mom said she felt that way for 40 years.
Effective Presentation Solutions to my mom’s common problems.
I told my mom those problems that plagued you for 40 years are the hindrances to life and career that Effective Presentations solves. Effective Presentation’s bed rock principle of focusing on your audience not yourself would be the first solution to my mom’s anxious and wounded heart. We present to help our audience; it is about them not us. Even though my mother’s coworkers wounded her deeply with their criticism, she could rest assured that she helped them. My mom showed up, focused on delivering value for her audience, and that’s the most, most of us can do. Her product spoke for itself, she was just the vessel that delivered major solutions for major technical problems. As we focus more on our audience and less on ourselves, we are freed to express our ideas and represent our company’s interest without insecurity or worry. Even if those nerves are still present the effect is less and more manageable because of the techniques and mindsets we teach.
Second, my mom’s worry about presenting compelling information to an already well-informed audience could have been spiced up by learning our body language and voice skills. My mom didn’t need to have different information, she couldn’t have changed the details of her product and service if her life depended upon it. Instead, she could have focused more on internal motions with her hands, pregnant pauses at important moments and large one-handed gestures to emphasize her main points. In other words, my mom could have spent her nervous energy on mastering body language and voice techniques to improve the reception of the information she could not know any better. This would have improved her perceived competence in the eyes of her coworkers and bosses. Even so, my mom did great for herself in her career :).
Lastly, her worry about seeing as another salesperson who sounds fake rather than genuine could have been solved by understanding that the best type of presenter is you. We all have unique ways of presenting. The times when I have presented utilizing a style of someone I respected, but didn’t personally embody, I have felt embarrassed and fake. On the other hand, when I have presenting using my personal style and personality, I’ve still felt vulnerable, but found the result of my presentation is almost always better received. When I am myself, I notice I perform my best, and my flaws are more easily forgiven because my audience seeks to listen and help me in my vulnerability.
My mom had a very successful career in sales and software education. Still, she suffered more than she needed to for a number of reasons: she felt nervousness based on bad experiences early in her career, an over emphasis on information instead of her presentation skills, and instead of trying to be the presenter a customer wanted, being the presenter she was and engender support and trust with her audience through that. No one needs to suffer through presenting for 40 years until they retire. At Effective Presentations we can help people enjoy presenting throughout their career. I just hope we can reach everyone sooner than later :).