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Every time I’m due to give some kind of public presentation or speech, I get a severe attack of pre-talk jitters. It usually comes at some time between when I first arrive at the venue and when I’m actually being announced. My mouth goes dry. My heart attempts to climb out of my throat and I start looking for the exits. I can’t do this. What was I thinking? Tell ‘em you feel sick, or better yet, invent an emergency so you can get the heck out of here.
Luckily, my old gran had strong opinions about coping with fear.
“Of course you’re scared, boy. It’s dark and cramped up there, and some of those spiders are big buggers. But being brave ain’t about not being frightened. It’s about being scared witless, but doing it anyway. So get your cowardly arse in gear and start climbing. That chimney won’t clean itself.”
I’ve given plenty of readings, workshops etc. over the last twelve months, and I have to say, those pre-talk jitters don’t seem to diminish, but thanks to my old gran’s ‘tough love’ approach, I have learned how to keep them at bay.
1: Expect to be nervous
If you usually get a pre-talk panic attack, don’t hope it doesn’t come, expect it.
2: Practice your presentation
Knowing your presentation is well-honed and well-practiced is a great comfort. I have sheets with bullet points on, which I refer to throughout a talk, so I don’t lose my thread if I get distracted or stray too far off-track. 
3: Be prepared to panic
Make a note of when that panic attack usually begins (for me, it’s usually when I first walk into the room/hall where my talk will take place), but whenever they usually occur, have a plan to chase those jitters away.
4: Decide to deal
My old gran’s approach works just as well today as it did when I was a frightened youngster, terrified of spiders and dark, confined spaces. I’ve found that telling myself to get my cowardly bottom in gear and start climbing really helps.
5: Have a standard Presentation Kit.
I keep a check list so I don’t need to worry about forgetting something. My standard presentation kit includes:

  • Printed sheet with presentation subject, audience type, name and contact details of the person who booked me and/or the event host.
  • Printed sheet with venue address and directions
  • Whiteboard, stand and markers (or if venue supplies whiteboard, just markers)
  • Presentation notes (usually bullet points)
  • Notes/CDs to give out to attendees (if required)
  • Letter size promo displays (if required)
  • Fur-Face CDs and I are a writer! mugs to sell (if required)
  • Receipt book and change (if required)
  • Bottle of water
6: Create a distraction
Nervous thoughts love wide open spaces (which is probably why they like spending time in my head). Don’t give them a chance to take root. If the venue room is empty, do something physical, like moving chairs around – it doesn’t matter if the room’s already set up perfectly, you can always move them back again. At the same time, practice your opening lines.
7: Find a friendly face
There should be at least one friendly face at the venue (the person who booked you to come and talk). I’ve found a few minutes chatting with people about themselves and their work really helps me to settle down.
8: Look busy
If the host is busy and/or I’m too nervous to talk to someone, I’ve found it helps to read through my notes or even write out my opening lines, longhand. Anything is better than sitting there, staring into space – that’s an open invitation to nerves and doubts.
9: What would my old gran say?
As a last resort, if numbers 1 thru 8 haven’t done the trick and I still want to make a break for it, I force myself to imagine my old gran, sitting in the backseat of my car, ready to deliver her ‘And now your ancestors are ashamed of you…again’ speech.  That always does the trick.
10: ____________________________________________________ 

I left number 10 blank.
What would you add to the list?

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( 35 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 31st, 2011 01:04 pm (UTC)
I don't know about other writing programs,
but at UNO, a semester of Theatre and a semester of oral interpretation
are required. These might seem to have nothing to do with writing.
But experience in facing an audience if of great value after all is said and done,
especially when you're the one who has to do that saying...

Anyway, I think it's imperative to ride the wave, as it were.
Whether you think of it as surfing, or simply riding a spirited horse,
you have to grab the fear and andrenelin and use them.
They are, after all, a tremendous source of energy.
May. 31st, 2011 08:56 pm (UTC)
"They are, after all, a tremendous source of energy."

They are indeed :)
May. 31st, 2011 01:05 pm (UTC)
When I do talks I never have anything prepared ahead of time. I do a little talk about my work, but I really prefer to let the people in the audience ask questions. I can answer for several minutes about a specific topic that the listener wants to know the answer to. I've managed to keeps several dozen 6th and 7th graders in their seats and interested that way.
May. 31st, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC)
This ~is~ the best approach for anyone
whose mind doesn't go blank at such moments.
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 31st, 2011 08:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - author_guy - Jun. 1st, 2011 12:08 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 31st, 2011 01:45 pm (UTC)
Use the restroom right beforehand?
May. 31st, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC)
Hehehehehehe. Good one :)
(Deleted comment)
May. 31st, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC)
Yeah, while some people are good at extemporaneous responses,
anyone who isn't should write a script and stick to it.
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 31st, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 31st, 2011 01:51 pm (UTC)
10. Remember that, just like a bad burrito, this, too, shall pass.
May. 31st, 2011 09:05 pm (UTC)
Lol, eww, and possibly ouch :)
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Jun. 1st, 2011 12:31 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 31st, 2011 02:38 pm (UTC)
Use the TED Talks formula: Start off with a joke. Deliver your juxtaposition (using somber tones/slides of how things are done wrong). Throw in your information about why you are awesome. Another joke. Conclusion.
May. 31st, 2011 09:06 pm (UTC)
That's a useful formula, Clint, but what would you do about pre-talk jitters? :)
(no subject) - wendigomountain - May. 31st, 2011 09:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 31st, 2011 10:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 31st, 2011 03:44 pm (UTC)
10. Just remember - those people are here because they want to learn something from you, hear something from you. So most likely you know about twice the stuff about the topic than they do. So even if you do make a mistake - they'll most likely not notice, so there's not much to worry about.
May. 31st, 2011 09:07 pm (UTC)
"So even if you do make a mistake - they'll most likely not notice...

Excellent point. Thanks, Claudia :)
(no subject) - claudee - Jun. 1st, 2011 08:11 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 31st, 2011 05:57 pm (UTC)
If I'm presenting on my own, I don't get jitters. If I'm on a panel with others, I've discovered that I'm quieter than I would otherwise be. I don't mind running the show when it's mine to run.

I was surprised by how quiet I was on my panel at WFC, but it was the first time I'd been "on stage" with others, so I was sort of feeling my way through, and also forgetting I was actually ON the panel! I was busy listening. :)
May. 31st, 2011 09:09 pm (UTC)
"I was busy listening."

Lol, I know what you mean. I've done the same on NJAN panels :)
May. 31st, 2011 06:45 pm (UTC)
I always remind myself when I have to teach my big gen ed course that has about 50 students every semester that it's okay for me to pause and collect my thoughts from time to time. Otherwise, like your list, I practice my lectures beforehand so I sound like I know what I'm talking about, and I have lots of notes.
May. 31st, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC)
I find too many notes become a hindrance, because it's hard to see exactly where you are, but bullet points work well for me.

Thanks for sharing, Kaoime :)
(no subject) - jaguarx13 - Jun. 1st, 2011 12:25 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
May. 31st, 2011 09:11 pm (UTC)
"Never show 'em you're ignorant or afraid."

There's not much chance of the first one, but I can certainly manage the second :)
May. 31st, 2011 10:03 pm (UTC)
Those are some good suggestions above. I would tell people NOT to take anti-anxiety medication for the first time right before a talk. You never know how you will respond to them.

And remember, the audience does not know what you are supposed to be saying.
May. 31st, 2011 10:15 pm (UTC)
"And remember, the audience does not know what you are supposed to be saying."

Lol, just so long as we do, right? :)
(no subject) - tracy_d74 - Jun. 1st, 2011 03:08 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 31st, 2011 10:45 pm (UTC)
These are all great, Jon! Reminds me of a college prof I had once. His advice was: "Drastically overprepare". And it totally worked!

As for #10, I would add: Be confident. If you don't feel confident, fake it =D
May. 31st, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC)
"Fake it till you make it," right? :)
(no subject) - mongrelheart - May. 31st, 2011 10:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
May. 31st, 2011 11:12 pm (UTC)
I look forward to seeing the photo of you with a shaved head ;)
Jun. 1st, 2011 01:41 am (UTC)
Bring water to the podium so if your mouth goes dry from nerves, you can still talk!
Jun. 3rd, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
Dry mouth and no water = :(
( 35 comments — Leave a comment )

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