After I graduated from high school I was lucky enough to go overseas on a year’s exchange to France, thanks to my local Rotary club. After a couple of months there, my host family gently suggested that I might like to give a talk on Australia to my French Rotary club. Never wanting to appear less than fearless, of course I agreed. So I have the experience to tell you that the scariest presentation you can give is as a 17 year old in a foreign country to a room full of intimidating 70 year old Rotarians, speaking a language which you haven’t yet mastered.
Since then I’ve had many opportunities to talk in front of groups of people. My main role in my current casual job is actually talking to school students, so I certainly get practice. I still get nervous though – not in front of schoolkids, but certainly when presenting to a group of my peers.
Yesterday I gave my first presentation on the work I’ll be doing during my Master’s. It was only an informal talk to my lab group, but it’s the first talk I’ve done in a long time that wasn’t directed at high school students. Thankfully the nerves stayed away! I was sitting down, and I think the fact that I was not actually standing in front of a room of people helped. But I can see future presentations looming in front of me, and I worry about how I will cope with them. My nervousness shows up physically, as well, so it’s not like no one would notice – shaky voice and hands, and even jelly legs.
My university has its own chapter of Toastmasters, and I went to a few meetings. I stopped going simply because I prefer to spend my Tuesday nights reading and snoozing, but I may have to do something to help myself if my nerves are going to be a problem. I don’t think there’s another way to get better than to throw myself in at the deep end. I won’t always be able to stand behind a desk or have a lectern to hold on to.
If anyone has any wonderful tips though (keeping in mind that imagining the audience naked is only going to make me laugh) I’d love to hear them!