Quite often in my line of work, I get asked to give a presentation.  And I’m always perfectly happy to comply.  I’m one of those rare mutants of a human who actually enjoys public speaking.  Perhaps I missed my calling as a c-list celebrity actress on a soap opera or my chance to make it big yodeling on America’s got talent.  But give me a microphone, a happy audience and a deck of powerpoint slides and I’m off to the races.

So the other day there I was, right in my element, with a happy audience of fifteen HR directors of the top Austin hotel chains.  I had been asked to speak about mindfulness and the link to customer service, and was super excited to have the opportunity to connect so directly with potential clients.

Attack of the presentation jitters

The jokes were landing, the information was resonating, I was in my happy place.  No presentation jitters here!  And then about halfway through the presentation I zeroed in on one participant, who had the look on his face.

The look?

You know the look.

We’ve all seen the look.

It’s the look that says, “You’re an idiot.  This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.  There is no way I am taking this seriously.  Get off the stage before I get my big hook and drag you off.”

That look.

I tried to focus on the other participants.  “Okay Shelley, find more friendly faces in the crowd.  Focus your attention elsewhere.  You know you could be misinterpreting this.”  But it was to no avail.  I couldn’t escape that sly smile, those narrowed eyes, the smug mouth.  And I’m sure at one point he even rolled his eyes.  The look was controlling me now.  I was no longer free.

I sensed my body tensing up.  The pace of my speech grew quicker and quicker.  I was asking fewer questions, engaging the audience less and less.  I was skipping over sections of slides.  I finished early and with a sigh of relief asked my attentive audience what questions they had.


At that point the HR director who had invited me threw out a token question, which I eagerly jumped on like manna from heaven to a dying soul.

I was desperate for their approval.  Desperate for their validation.

I told myself that maybe they were just shy and that I’m sure a few will approach me afterwards to ask for more information.  That always happens.

No one did.

I gathered up my belongings and left the room with my tail between my legs.

Now being a trained and skilled facilitator, I’ve dealt with these things before, but they tended to affect me earlier on in my training days, when I was a newbie facilitator with a lot of passion and not a lot of practice.

Was that man really giving me the look?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Even if he was, the rest of the group was actively engaged up to the point where my self-confidence took a nose dive.

And then I realized my fatal mistake.

One simple phrase to remember

A wise colleague of mine, who also does a lot of public speaking, once gave me a very sage piece of advice for presentation jitters.  I was having dinner with her in Houston, and it was the night before a very big speech I was giving on mindfulness.

I was nervous, it was going to be the biggest crowd I had ever spoken to.

“You know Shelley, so often when we speak we’re focused on what we can get.  Will I get embarrassed?  Will I get humiliated?  Will I get buy-in?  Will I get the sale?  Will I get recognition?  It gets exhausting, you know?  What if instead you focus on what you can give?  How would that change things for you?  How would that take the pressure off?”

I have to say that was a damn good piece of advice.

The next day I gave one hell of a speech.  In the run up to showtime, I’d been repeating in my mind silently the manta, “It’s about what I can give,” over and over.

It’s just so easy to forget, when you’re desperately trying to make your business work, get your voice into the world and make the sale.

How can the one little sentence, “It’s not what you can get, but what you can give,” change things for you?”

Shelley Pernot is a leadership and career coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their strengths and talents and find a career that utilizes them.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!