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Stories of the Institutional past #4
Giving presentations is an integral part of anyone’s career. As you climb the ladder, you will have to communicate your thoughts in one shape or form, be it in internal meetings or in front of clients and prospects.
There are vast differences in the ability of people to give a presentation. It often comes naturally to some, while its a torture for others. I always hated giving presentations, especially to larger audiences. I avoided them where I could. I would get nervous a few days before. A lot goes back to my school years, when I would give presentations in front of my class, having learned every little sentence by heart in order to avoid making a mess out of it.
As I grew into more senior roles, I was also given professional media training. This is typically a 2-3 day course where they teach you tips and tricks, put you in front of a camera and analyse your tone and mannerisms. You can tell who had media training when watching CNBC or Bloomberg. Watch their stiff bodies and the way people use their hands. It’s so weird to look at.
The best presenters I have ever witnessed were just natural. While firm and precise in delivering their messages, they had flair; they showed part of themselves when presenting, instantly attracting attention. This, to a large degree, is not trainable. It has all to do with how self-assured and comfortable you are within yourself.
Many moons ago, I was set to speak on Bloomberg TV. They typically brief you on a few standard questions they would ask you on any given topic. I was so damn nervous the evening before I couldn’t sleep. On the morning of the interview, I had to call it off and asked a colleague to step in for me. I just didn’t feel confident and comfortable at that time.
Similarly, when I moved jobs, I was in charge of a department and was asked to give a presentation to the whole institutional gathering during a global internal conference. I had a few weeks to prepare and worked on the details and key messages. I was, however, still dreading the moment of standing in front of hundreds of people and speaking.
The fear and nervousness were building. If only I could get myself into a state where I could remain calm and not worry about it. I talked to a friend of mine who had similar issues. He advised me to take soft beta blockers, which slow the heart rate down. I went on and consulted a doctor for further advice. To my surprise, he informed me of how common such practice was amongst the financial community. Doctors themselves would even take beta blockers when performing surgeries to calm their nerves.
The day arrived. Again, I hardly slept. I pop the recommended dose and wait for the 30-minute incubation to kick in. While I walk to the auditorium, I notice a subtle change. Having been told that it compares to having just drank 2 Gin-and-Tonics, I certainly feel a slowness in my thoughts. 3 presenters are ahead of me; I watch them intently in the first row while I sense how my nervousness has vanished. For some weird reason, I like when room doors are left open when giving presentations. I don’t know why that is still, but I remember it being open that day. Anyway, I gave the presentation, which went well, and I have never used those blockers since. While they helped with my nervousness, they also zapped any energy which could be turned into a good presentation out of me. Rather, I worked on being myself when presenting. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t enjoy it, but I have adjusted myself to thinking that I might enjoy parts of it.
As in many things, facing your fear head-on is usually the best cure for overcoming certain behavioural patterns. No pills or shrinks will be able to help you with that. Giving presentations is an integral part of your career. It’s the key platform for self-promotion and telling the world who you are. If you struggle with it, just watch those media-trained people on TV. Notice how for the ones who master the art, it almost doesn’t matter what they say but how they draw the audience in by talking in a particular tone as well as using their facial expression and body language to their advantage. It’s a very damn useful skill to have, so work on it until you feel confident enough. Most people suck at presenting, so there is your additional motivation and edge to go after.