It’s five minutes before presentation time and my PowerPoint notes are spread out in front of me. I try to hide them from people because they are already filled with font size 10 text and some will even need to be turned over in order to read the full story of what I really planned to say. In an eloquent, non-scripted manner, that is.  

In addition to the font size 10 text are pen marks and arrows EVERYWHERE…and yet, in these five minutes before presentation time…I am still adding more.

Ironically, the topic of my presentation is one I know intrinsically. It’s a story about my very own daughter and how a random activity she happened to be doing, ended up becoming my presentation (instead of the long, boring academic one).

So, why the frantic panic?

One word…AUDIENCE.

In the hot seat

There are actual people sitting there in expectation. People have come to learn something, or at least come away more informed or knowledgeable about a topic than before they came. 

The fear is real, people. Put me in front of a middle school class any day and I could chat about a million topics.

Put me in front of a group of academics and I am on the hot seat. What if I stand up and totally forget why I’m there? What if I forget my topic? What if I open my mouth and nothing comes out eloquently or in a way that makes sense? What if I get up and can say nothing at all?

I have dreams of standing up and when I try to speak, my tongue is stuck to the floor of my mouth in concrete. Ive dreamt that I have spoken and only one word has come out…repetitively (although my husband has a hard time believing this). 

Just wing it

I need my crutch. I need my notes in front of me…in full typed sermon form…and yet, I think the best times I have ever spoken are the times when I have left them aside and just freelanced it.

This need for a crutch follows me…everywhere.

And it still happens today.

I’m always honoured to be asked to speak (usually months in advance), but when it comes down to the moment of actually having to plan and present such a speech, I wonder why I ever agreed to such a ludicrous idea.

So, when my students panic about having to present or act in front of others in school, I deeply empathize. I empathize silently and more greatly than they can imagine.

And yet, despite this, I push.

How to avoid having tomatoes thrown at you

I push them to understand and practice and become great at presenting, because it is a skill they will need and be forever grateful to have attained in all facets of life.

It’s a skill I wish I had been pushed to develop. I remember only two distinct opportunities to practice my public speaking skills. One in grade 11, when we had to write speeches for a school-wide speech contest (where somehow my speech on the wonders of wearing braces earned me a spot in the top 3) and in my Communications 101 class in the US Midwest where my persuasive speech against capital punishment earned me not much more than imaginary tomatoes being thrown at my head and a thought that I might be punished with a bad grade for even picking such a topic.  

I wish I’d been pushed to create engaging and inspiring presentations which didn’t only showcase my knowledge in an organized fashion, but did so in a way that kept my audience engaged and wanting more.

I wish I had been taught to trust myself to speak spontaneously and meaningfully about what was in my heart and in my head.

So, students and parents, come public presentation time…I feel your pain, and silently empathize with your nervousness.

However, because I care, it means I’m going to make you practice more! After all, practice makes perfect…and if not perfect, definitely more comfortable and ready to face a world that needs people who can present ideas of faith in a way that will make others stand up and take notice.

In the meantime, parents and students, know that I will be there cheering you on, knowing full well the pain you feel as you present and prepare your child to present…in hopes that when you are my age, you’ll be able to forego the “what if ” fears…