Ever found yourself having to do a presentation and you are absolutely petrified?  There are many articles on presentation skills, in order to improve your delivery, your appearance etc.  However, despite reading all of those, my experiences of doing presentations still felt terrible.

This is what used to happen to me.  When I was 23 I was asked to do my very first presentation.  I was working in a management consultancy, and it was figured that at some stage soon in my career development I would need to work with clients and present my findings.  So my boss decided to make me do a presentation to the whole of the company (only about 15 people) to gain some experience.

My presentation was on data I had analysed as part of a client project, and was basically all numbers!  Not much scope for humour or even diagrams!  However, I put the presentation together (using acetates and an overhead projector in those days) and asked my line manager to review it to ensure it made sense and was in the right order.

I was as ready as I was ever going to be, but still petrified.  On to “death by powerpoint” as they call it these days!!  However, on slide 3, one of the Directors asked me a question.  Completely took me by surprise, and I went hunting through the rest of the slides to try and find the one that would answer his question.  I had no experience of asking if they would mind holding on for a little while and his question would be answered in due course.

Then, having got completely muddled, my line manager (the one who had checked my presentation), loudly announced to the group “oh my God, could you have not even got the presentation in any sort of logical order?  How ridiculous!”

I finished the presentation, stammering, heart thudding, sweating – and left exhausted and humiliated. My first experience of doing a presentation was, to me, the worst possible. To some people, this experience may seem minor.  However, to me, it was something that would stay with me for another 22 years.  The memory of those few minutes would haunt me through every presentation I did thereafter.  And I did a lot.

As I became more senior in my next company, presentations were the norm.  I did get better with experience, and learnt some of the techniques to deal with questions etc.  Only a few close colleagues knew the horror that was going on inside me, and could see the shaking hands, every time I stood up.  One colleague just could not understand how someone who could conduct meetings with no effort at all, could be so different when standing up to present.

However, over the years, I managed to collect a competing memory to the horrendous first one.  After a presentation I had to do to my new team of direct reports (all managers – you can imagine how worried I was about that one), one of them came up to me and said “that was brilliant, you make me proud to say you’re my manager”.  For the next couple of years I had those two memories competing in my head every time I did a presentation, which somehow made it a little bit easier.

Then I trained as an NLP practitioner.  My fear of presentations was discussed and we worked on learning from the memories and then letting them go. Once I could see beyond the blind panic I was able to recall many more successes than failures.  Mistakes could be learned from, and they didn’t have to dominate my thoughts and reduce my confidence.  When we practised a presentation during the course, guess what – I was the last one of the group to be called up, so had a bit of a sweaty hand thing going on – only to be told by the whole group and the trainers, that that was the best presentation they’d seen!

It is so much better and easier to think clearly about your past successes and mistakes, and stop unhelpful ones dominating your current experience.  I’ve written previously about how negative beliefs can blind us to evidence that proves them incorrect, and how the chemical changes in our brains react to stress and demotivating triggers reducing our ability to think clearly and creatively.   It is also great to be able to work through some of those memories and get rid of the ghosts holding us back.  One could also say, it’s better for our audience too!!!!

If you’re interested in finding out more about how NLP can help you with your confidence, contact us or find out more information here.

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