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Presentation skills 101 – feel the fear and do it anyway

Presentation Skills 101

ruth-joblingIn September 2016 Ruth Jobling, Research Advisor at The Brooke, was a participant at their bespoke introductory day on Presentation Skills, run by =mc. For Ruth it was very much ‘just in time’ training – she was booked to put her learning into practise in front of a large audience at an international conference the following week. Read on to find out how she faired…

I enrolled on =mc’s in-house introductory day on Presention Skills training in attempt to force myself to ‘be confident.’ When the trainer, Philly Graham, produced the iPads and cheerfully explained that we were going to use them to record ourselves presenting there were audible gasps from myself and my colleagues. But Philly’s facilitation style gently guided us through the terror and because of that we all willingly jumped right out of our comfort zones. And because of that we progressed – and because of that we left feeling much better about presenting. Being filmed went largely unnoticed and for me it brought home the fact that despite what you might be feeling (shaking with fear, losing train of thought, fumbling over words), it isn’t the picture that others see. Knowing this was the key to turning my fake and forced bravado of ‘I can do this’ into genuine confidence and belief that ‘I can do this – and I can do it well.’

I did have an ulterior motive for attending the training. The following week my UK-based colleague and I, plus six of our overseas colleagues, were presenting at the First International Conference for Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare. I work for Brooke: Action for Working Horses and Donkeys, an international animal welfare charity operating in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East ( This conference was a perfect opportunity to share our experiences, expertise and innovations with almost 200 people from many different countries and professions, all with the common aim of helping people to change their behaviour to create positive changes in animal welfare.

The night before four of us huddled into a room and went over our presentations. I wouldn’t normally practise out loud or in front of people, but because of the training this was something that I wanted to try. Not one of my several practise runs went to plan. My brain was malfunctioning, I was giving up hope that I was going to be able to pull this off. I worried that my message wasn’t important and envisaged it was going to be an agonising five minutes for all involved. My colleagues pepped me up and convinced me that people would want to hear what I had to say. I held onto this along with Philly’s words from the training, “Ditch the internal negative messages.”

Three agonising hours of steadily building nerves and it was finally my turn. I stepped up to the podium and stood in a neutral posture (a grounding position I remembered from the training) and I started to speak. It felt like I was behind the wheel of a car perfectly steering my way to my destination – but it wasn’t me doing the driving. Surprisingly, what I didn’t feel was nervous. The right words flowed out and when I did slip, I calmly made the necessary adjustments without breaking the spell. Despite feeling like I was possessed by somebody else, somebody who can speak in public, I felt at ease. I enjoyed it. Watching the video back it’s funny to see myself looking so pained and serious because actually, I felt like I was having fun – maybe next time I can step up my game by remembering to smile.

At the break a friend who has seen me present at many conferences came over with a huge grin and said that there was a massive difference this time. My whole persona was much more confident and I owned the presentation. I hadn’t mentioned that I’d been on any training, this was a spontaneous comment – the training obviously spoke for itself.

Turns out that what started as an attempt to force myself to be confident was an invaluable experience that led to the real thing.

There are three things that stick with me and that I would advise anybody wanting to improve their presenting skills to try:

  • Watch yourself presenting because you’re probably already better than you think are.
  • Ditch the internal negative messages, they’re not helpful and are almost never true.
  • Practise. Say it out loud in front of your friends and the stage fright might slip away.

What’s next?

If you have a group of people in your organisation keen to improve their presenting, visit =mc’s Transformational Presentation Skills web page, or call 020 7978 1516 to speak to one of our experienced consultants.

You may also find the following articles useful:

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Philly Graham

About Philly Graham

Philly specialises in communications, leadership and management development and personal effectiveness. She is an accredited coach, action learning set facilitator and a CIPD Learning and Development Associate. Philly’s career...