A Training Lesson on Stage Fright

When I first started my training career, like many others, I was thrown into the deep end of the pool with little guidance, but plenty of expectations built around being a good presenter. While the content had already been developed, I was forced to figure out how to capture the attention of an audience and how to get my learning messages across. To say that I had “stage fright” was an understatement. There’s nothing like a sleepless night before a day of training!

That was more than 25 years ago, and to be honest, I don’t remember exactly how I settled into a certain level of comfort in my presentations. Like many things in life, I guess I just figured it out. Since that time, I’ve presented in front of a variety of audiences around the globe with a comfortable level of confidence. I never really gave it a second thought.

Turning on a Dime

One of the first things I do when getting into a training is to somehow make the space my own. Most times there is little choice on room set-up, but I need to somehow make the room as comfortable for me as it is for my participants. Last year I was presenting to a group of managers for a new client, a beta test of a customer service training module. I was once again in a new environment about to speak in front of a group of individuals that I had never met before. Yes, I had some butterflies but just enough keep me on my toes.

About thirty minutes in, I was handed a note that said “At the break we need to move the training to another meeting room.” What? I was just getting comfortable and into “entertaining” mode and now the rug is getting pulled out from under me? Well, the show must go on! My poker face came in handy as I tried to focus on my content during the first half of the session.

Being Self-Aware

At the break, I let the group in on the secret and with their assistance we were able to quickly move and set up in the new space. Training crisis averted? I quickly learned that was not the case. Once in the new space, I had a sudden rush of stage fright and thought to myself, why am I feeling this way? I’ve turned on a dime before! Then it dawned on me what had me so unsettled.

I realized that each time I stand before an audience that I am about to address, whether or not I am acquainted with them, I look for smiling faces, those that seem eager to be there and those who nod their head in “agreement” as I speak. I now call them my “safety net.” They give me my footing with the audience before me and I initially focus on them as I address my audience. As the presentation goes on, I branch out to others, and in time, each member of the audience will have my eyes cast upon them as I look to connect with each in a unique fashion. However, when we moved into the new space to continue the session, my “safety net” was gone! The friendly faces I’d become accustomed to were now spread throughout the audience, and I had to start from scratch finding my comfort zone. Once I had that realization, I was able to make the adjustment and get back on my feet quickly.

The Pay Off

One thing that has always been important to me as a facilitator is to be transparent with my audience. This group of managers would soon spend time with me in a Train the Trainer session to present the content I was sharing with them that day, so I felt compelled to share with them the epiphany that I was having. Though simple, I felt it might indeed help a few that I knew were already apprehensive about their training abilities.

At the time, there was little reaction to my revelation. But two months later, during our Train the Trainer session, I polished this piece of insight and presented it again amongst my presentation pointers. To my surprise, a few of the participants of that session remembered the situation well and indeed were empathetic! They thanked me for sharing and using the opportunity to give them insight into how to be better presenters, or, in essence, how to overcome their own stage fright.

We all have our own unique style of training or speaking to groups or individuals. Going forward this year, I plan to share more of my experiences and real world insights to help those of you looking to polish your presentation and training skills. Let’s get you comfortable with your own unique style!.

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