Recently I had an opportunity to do some personal presentation skills coaching with Michael. That’s not his real name but his story could be your story, your manager’s or maybe even your company president’s.
Michael certainly made a very polished first impression as he walked in. He was well groomed and very executive looking in his well-tailored suit. “Feel free to take off your jacket,” I told him. He politely declined.
During the first 15 minutes with a new client, I always spend some time to try to understand who’s sitting in front of me. I learned a long time ago I’m never just working in the moment – I’m working with the sum total of someone’s life experiences; both good and bad, acknowledged and deeply buried.
“I wasn’t completely honest with you about setting up this time.” he continued. “And there was a reason I kept putting off this personal coaching time. Even the thought of presenting is terrifying to me and has been for as long as I can remember.”
Not much explanation was needed. You see, I had experienced this many times before over the years.
During one coaching session a senior executive recalled an extreme presentation embarrassment 50 years earlier as he stood in front of his 6th grade class…with everyone laughing.
After a speaking gig, a young senior account representative in a large PR firm pulls me aside and asks about her incapacitating fear in front of clients. “I completely freeze up,” she confides. “What’s happening to me?”
Then out of the blue a few years back, a senior officer in a large company calls me looking for some insight into his debilitating anxiety when presenting to his Board; other presentation settings were never an issue. His coping mechanism? Xanax for the anxiety and avoidance whenever possible.
Baggage for All
We are all the sum total of our life experiences.
I find few people who relish presenting, but for most they find a way to cope, some surviving the moment at best. For others, however, the pressure of an important presentation brings back old tapes, deeply internalized embarrassments, harsh words or confidence that has been systematically dismantled over decades by the relationship with a parent.
And it’s precisely these moments that I realize that no matter how good I may be as a personal presentation coach, I am woefully inadequate in untangling issues that have ensnared people for most of their lives.
So my counsel to them and maybe you is pretty much the same.
I can help them work on the outside and very visible manifestations of their fear. But for the stuff on the inside, presenters owe it to themselves to better understand what’s going on, if for no other reason than to live a more fulfilling life. One that isn’t metered by fear and anxiety.
So whether you’re simply a survivor of anxiety or have never turned the corner on overwhelming fear, know this…personal victories in this area can and do happen.
I’ve seen breakthroughs change people’s lives through a partnership of a coach and a clinician, all focused on helping individuals overcome the things they fear most. Deeply held anxiety slowly mitigated not only by meaningful insight, but also a client seeing with his or her own eyes a more confident, polished presenter on the video playback in front of them.
They can’t believe it’s them. Old tapes slowly rewritten. Self-defeating scripts joyfully discarded. Confidence blossoming.
And most of us have experienced this important truth – avoidance is not a very successful strategy. Because presenting our thoughts and ideas to others will be something we will be asked to do the rest of our lives. And there simply aren’t enough places to hide.
So if this article strikes a little close to home for you… maybe it’s time to go to “baggage” claim. Check your tag carefully, and finally find someone to help you carry it all to the curb.
About the Author:
Jim Endicott is president of Distinction Communication Inc, a Newberg, OR consulting firm specializing in message development, presentation design and delivery skills coaching. For more information about the company, visit www.distinction-services.com