Posted by: maf | July 18, 2008


In case you’re a bit nervous about tomorrow — I really want to do everything to allay your fears.

First, know this. To me, giving a presentation in front of peers (fellow students or fellow workers) is a really scary thing. I’m not quite sure why. It just is – to this day, for me. For one thing, I know my colleagues well and can almost hear them “thinking” about what I’m saying – and in my mind, they are always critical. This is an illusion.

These things have helped me over the years when stage fright is a problem:

  • Set the stage according to your own terms. Arrange furniture, technology, etc. in the most conducive arrangement. For some, this means standing up, for others sitting down. You’ve noticed how I like to sit on a table – that’s to make me tall enough to see everybody and not feel like I have to shout. Seize control if this matters to you.
  • Do the tech setup ahead of time. There’s nothing worse than fumbling with opening Powerpoint files with everybody watching you struggle. Have a backup plan so that you won’t be nervous about “what if it doesn’t work?”
  • Remember that you will be teaching all of us something that we really need to know.
  • Remember that tomorrow’s event is not a competition.
  • Incorporate conversational, interactive elements if that helps deflect attention from yourself.
  • Remember to breathe. This is how I really know when I’m nervous.
  • Remember that people usually can’t tell if you’re nervous.
  • Take your time – try not to talk too fast, and if you need to pause a moment to collect your thoughts, that’s ok.
  • It’s better to be under-time than over-time. Your grade or performance is not determined by length of talking or number of words.
  • I will not sit there with a red marker in my hand. I may jot notes, but these are always to help me remember, not to “count off.”
  • While awaiting your “turn” in the audience, pay attention. This is better than stewing over what you’re going to say and becoming increasingly nervous.
  • If you’re really nervous, have a “disaster plan.”  This is a point or note that you will go to if your brain completely shuts down or you really get off track.  The musical equivalent to this is having a piece of music open on top of the organ that I could grab and easily play if the preacher faints, the wedding ring rolls under a pew, or the guest musician runs out of music before the end of communion. (All of these, and worse, have happened to me during years of musician life!)
  • Most important, have a sense of humor about all of this.

The agenda with batting order is ready. If you still want to claim a spot on the lineup, it’s not too late!

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