ABZ’s of Communication for PM’s and Techies… O: Outlook and Opportunity – a Personal Story

O: (part two): Outlook and Opportunity

I’ve done p1ublic speaking for years in over 25 countries spanning North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia and so overcoming a “Fear of public speaking” has not been a problem for me since childhood.  However, even for someone whose middle school years involved delivering prepared speeches in front of a packed auditorium, I’ve had my share of the jitters and butterflies.

The O words that come to mind when I think about communication for technical professionals are “Opportunity” and “Outlook”, but before I get into how these words relate in today’s post, I’d first like to share with you the story of how I overcame “presentation paralysis” for presenting impromptu or personal presentations.

How I overcame Stage Fright to share Personal Stories…Carol speaking in Sao Paulo, September 2010

I was in my late twenties and was enrolled in the Dale Carnegie 14 week course on team building, and each week we had to deliver a prepared speech about a personal story or reflection.  I was surprised to find that I grew incredibly more nervous about sharing personal stories and participating in these activities as the weeks went by, and I’d spend the time between sessions worrying about how I could prepare a story that would be anywhere as funny, entertaining, and insightful as my classmates.

Every person presented every week, and as my turn approached to share a personal part of my life with my classmates, my heartbeat soared and my palms got wet with perspiration.  I couldn’t believe that I – a person who could deliver a prepared speech in front of 100 people flawlessly – could be tied up with angst over a 2-minute sharing story.  As the weeks progressed and my discomfort grew, I realized MY childhood fears coming true – I didn’t feel like I had anything of value to give and I felt that my perceptions, opinions, experiences, etc. were so much more trite and boring than those of my classmates and I feared that I’d be rejected for having them.  (As an aside, I realize that some of the fear of my perceptions being judged as wrong were perpetuated by my then husband who told me as much when we disagreed! But that is a segue into another topic for another time!)

Did my classmates give me reasons to feel this way?  No, it was the baggage I brought from my childhood and background – and it was getting in the way of my ability to fully take part in the sessions.  Throughout the sessions, various people would talk about their “breakthroughs” in communicating with others – friends, partners, family – and I just felt that I was attending, participating (with fearful trepidation when it was my turn to be at the front of the class) but not experiencing the nirvana that others were variously experiencing… until one night.

messageI returned home after my class still pondering how I could craft a creative, witty, responsive, and most-interesting story from my past for the following week, and the breakthrough hit me like lightning when I looked at the front page of the day’s newspaper:  The headline read “Cyclone in Bangladesh Kills Thousands” and I stopped in my tracks. After I got past the first “Oh my God” reaction in the newspaper, a personal realization set in…

Here was I, a single professional person in the Canadian city of Edmonton, Alberta (one of thousands of cities throughout the world) worried about something as insignificant as being judged by a group of 30 peers in a little room once a week (when there are thousands of similar meetings at the same time) – and thinking that my little 2 minute presentation on some little happening in my life – was somehow significant in the grand scheme of things.  How incredibly self-centered!

At that moment, when I realized the plight of thousands of homeless human beings faced with the loss of their homes, their friends, their families, and impending weeks of sorrow and hardship, I realized how ego-centric and trivial my outlook on this little presentation every week really was.  In fact I thought that (as Dale Carnegie emphasizes) the worst case scenario for the next week was ultimately insignificant.  For example if the worst possible thing that could happen would be that as I walked up to deliver my story in class I tripped over the microphone cord, hit my head on the lectern stand, bleed profusely and vomit on the entire front row out of shock, it would ultimately provide a bit of dinner time talking points for my classmates, but that would be it.  So, if that was the worst that could happen (and it likely wouldn’t), it would never be a life-and-death situation anywhere near what was on the front page of my newspaper.

From that moment forward, my outlook on being in front of an audience – no matter on what subject – changed dramatically and I realized that whatever and however I share my stories (unpolished and imperfect), the outcome will really only matter to the “royal we” (me, myself, and I). My fears of being rejected (it has never happened) or looking stupid (okay, sometimes this probably happens) subsided because I realized that my Outlook and my attitude are the keys to a healthy outcome – no matter what.

I am now totally comfortable on any topic in front of an audience (I am no more or less important than anyone in the crowd) and see each presentation as my Opportunity with myself and not a threat.  MY breakthrough came when I realized that the world really doesn’t care about me at all, it’s all about everyone else and how they personally respond and react to what I say from THEIR VANTAGE POINT, not mine.

How can my story help you to improve your communication at work and at  play?  Perhaps it might help to realize that a presentation is only that – a chance to impart a message and share information – and it doesn’t have to be a near-death fear-filled experience.  Share what you know and do your best – that’s all that matters. The reactions and responses are all about your audience and not about you – and when you realize the focus is on them and not you, watch the outcome be positive.

Outlook is a matter of the mind – and when you consider that people have so many more things in their life (thank goodness) than to talk about YOUR PRESENTATION, it takes the stress off of you.  If you do a great job of presenting, you’ll leave a memory of the message in the hearts of your audience, if you don’t, it’s likely that your presentation will meld into the woodwork of life and be forgotten. Do you best to be memorable and outstanding (another O word), but should the worst happen (no one gets your message), know that there will be another Opportunity to deliver your message soon.

Wishing you communication success!


Carol Dekkers
email: dekkers@qualityplustech.com

For more information on northernSCOPE(TM) visit www.fisma.fi (in English pages) and for upcoming training in Tampa, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Helsinki and other locations in 2010, visit www.qualityplustech.com.
=======Copyright 2010, Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =======


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