Present Well…in the Present
Many people reel in fear at the prospect of giving a presentation, especially to people they don’t know, especially to big groups, and even more so to senior managers and stakeholders.
It’s a paralyzing fear for some; and for others who manage to overcome it enough to step up to the podium, their residual fear means they can’t rise to the occasion.
Why is something we normally take for granted so palpably punishing when we are required to do it in front of a crowd? What’s going on inside our heads that leaves no headspace to focus on presenting well?
I’d like to suggest that our ability to present well is largely influenced by where we live. I’m not talking about a postcode (zip code) lottery, but whether we choose to live in the Past, Future or Present.
Depending on which time zone we place ourselves in our presentations can be insipid, uninspiring, incoherent and unfocused, or powerful, enthralling, engaging and mind-blowing.
The Past Does Not Dictate the Present or the Future
When you try to present from a position of the past, your focus is on what happened at an unrelated time, with an unrelated audience, on an unrelated topic. There’s no reason to assume that these past experiences (good or bad) will be replicated in the present, but by focusing on them we prevent ourselves from truly engaging with the present circumstances.
If your past experiences were uncomfortable and difficult, focusing on those experiences will simply recall those feelings of discomfort. If your previous experiences were great, you can become cocky, arrogant, and complacent: and fail to build rapport with your audience.
Good or bad, the past was only a dress-rehearsal. Today’s presentation is the real thing.
Back to the Future
Most people who are terrified of presenting are terrified because of what they imagine will happen. They see themselves or hear themselves in this future state mumbling, stuttering, sweating, talking gibberish, tripping up, losing their trousers, collapsing, enduring ridicule, falling apart…
This is not an empowering state. It does not allow us to access our incredible resources. And it is a fantasy. It’s a grotesque view of the future wholly imagined by ourselves, which almost guarantees disaster long before we get to the dais.
Of course, depending on how we feel and our levels of optimism, when we live in the future we could paint vivid pictures of a bright new dawn just as much as we could construct dark and brooding night. Either way, it’s just fantasy without understanding where we are in the Present.
All Present & Correct
Being in the Present means that we accept we are in a unique time and place. It exists in and of itself, with no precedent. The future is yet to be determined, and plays no part in what’s happening right now. It will unfold in some direction, but that direction is not predetermined.
Being in this state allows us to focus on what’s in front of us. We can become receptive to our surroundings and our audience. It’s all new and fresh and exciting. We don’t truly know what will happen, but we are prepared to respond to whatever does.
In this state, our purpose is to share and communicate; to gauge reactions; to respond; to enter into dialogue; to build a case through interaction with others who are present with us.
There’s nothing to fear because we are ‘in the moment’. Our gaze is not on the future and therefore what MIGHT happen, so anxiety has no space to flourish. And the past is a place we left behind, so it can’t touch us.
The Present is the only place we inhabit. We never inhabit the Past or the Future, but our minds can often trick us into believing that’s where we live.
Our Past and Future is made from many Presents, so treat your present as a true gift and share it with your audience.