NextGen Know-How: How to turn your inner critic into your inner coach

Reframe your feelings of anxiety to speak and act confidently while stepping outside your comfort zone.

The first professional presentation I ever gave was as the assistant director of human resources. My vice president asked me to prepare a presentation for the board of directors. I had very little experience presenting—especially to ten successful board members who had decades more work experience than me. The week leading up to the meeting, I felt sick and anxious every day. During the presentation, I could feel my face get flushed and my voice shake as I stood up in the board room to deliver my presentation. I was so relieved when it was over and couldn’t wait to leave the room.

That first presentation was over 20 years ago, and since then, I have presented hundreds of times in my career: first as a credit union VP and the last 14 years as a professional speaker and leadership consultant. A few years ago, a woman approached me after I had presented the keynote speech at a conference and commented that speaking seemed so natural for me and that I was lucky that it was easy for me to present to a room full of executives. She expressed that she wished she could feel comfortable standing on a stage and presenting to hundreds of leaders without getting nervous.

The reality is, I do still feel nervous most times before speaking, and I am not more naturally gifted than others. While my presentation skills and confidence have improved over the years, I often still feel anxiety before walking onto a stage to deliver a speech. What looked easy to this woman was actually hours of practice and hard work. People are often surprised to learn that a one-hour speech at a conference is between 40 and 60 hours of work on the back end—designing and customizing the speech, building in relevant stories, creating the visuals and practicing over and over and over again until I can present the main points and stories from memory.


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