Jan 252015



Patty Percival Gale

Sweaty palms. Dry mouth. Racing heart. Fluttering stomach. Could it be love? or a fear of public speaking?

It’s all my fault, really. When we’d watch a webinar or attend a conference, I’d say, “We do stuff more exciting than that! We should be up there speaking.” “You’re right,” my manager replied, “We should.” And so, a few months later, she announced, “You and Karen are approved!” “Approved for what, exactly?” “To present at a conference. You can start preparing your speech.”

Yikes, I thought. What did I get myself into?

So we planned a topic for a presentation. We selected a target conference. We submitted a proposal. We wrote outlines, fretted over graphics, prepared content, revised and refined. And waited. Would our proposal be accepted?

After a few nail-biting weeks, we got the word: We’re in! Relief and anxiety flooded my veins simultaneously. Relief because our proposal was accepted, anxiety because now we actually had to deliver. Could we really do this big thing? Present at a national conference? Of course we can! How hard can it be? We’re grown-ups, right? We have valuable insights to share, right? We can do this!

Acknowledging the state of my woefully underdeveloped presentation skills, I joined a local Toastmasters club to develop and hone some public-speaking muscles.

We continued to refine our presentation. We finalized graphics. We presented to our own team and to other teams within our organization. We accepted their praise with skepticism and incorporated their feedback with gratitude. We revised and refined some more. Removed words from the slides. Added graphics. Honed our speaking points.

We also submitted a proposal to make the same presentation at a smaller, local conference, figuring we could use that experience as a sort of dress rehearsal for the national conference. Again, after a few anxious weeks, we were accepted at the local conference.

At the end of March, we made our presentation at that local conference, cutting our teeth, so to speak, on the whole conference scene. And, despite a few butterflies in the stomach, we did a great job! The 45-minute presentation went smoothly (no technology snags, no forgotten lines). The audience was full of questions, thirsty for details. Afterwards, we basked in their applause and enjoyed further conversations about the topic.

Anxiety? Extinguished. Present at a conference? Sure, I can do that. Next stop: the national conference!