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Presentation Anxiety: It Happens to Everyone
September 30, 2022

Presentation Anxiety: It Happens to Everyone

As a writer by trade, I’m not sure if my teenage self knew quite how much of my career would involve public speaking. I thought I had chosen something intentionally reclusive, quiet and independent for a job. But being in the advertising and branding space, the majority of your job isn’t just creating work you can stand behind — it’s pitching that work to people, while being able to defend and evolve it in real time.


After many years of intentionally forcing myself to pretend to be confident, and copying people around me who were, I grew to feel somewhat comfortable with public speaking. But it wasn’t lost on me how difficult this is if you don’t have a physical presence that naturally commands a room. Being a woman who is 5’3, I just don’t.

Watching many people struggle with this over the years, I started to wonder, how many people out there feel this way? And how much is it contributing to the homogeneity in advertising?

I decided to teach a class on developing a unique presentation style, and practiced it with several coworkers. What I heard from them truly surprised me, and I think it will make anyone who experiences fear of public speaking feel less alone.


“I felt like no one took me seriously.”



1. Even the Most Confident People Dread Presenting

Some of my most eloquent and sharp coworkers talked about spending the majority of their career dreading public speaking. I found out that behind many meetings that appeared flawless was a sea of self-doubt or a crippling fear of making a mistake.


2. It’s a Physiological Experience

Even those who felt mentally comfortable presenting talked about physiological symptoms, including excessive sweating, feeling faint and dizzy, shaking hands, a breaking voice, panic attacks, headaches and even throwing up before or after an appearance.

“It’s almost like a sport, or being an athlete,” my senior copywriter colleague Angely Guevara observed.


3. For Some, It’s an Out-of-Body Experience

Another common theme was a feeling of “blacking out” during a presentation. Someone might tell you that it went well, but you barely remember the experience. To get through it, people talked about trying to show up as a completely different person.

“I saw it as a performance or an act,” said Rachel Armstrong, a copywriter, shared, thinking of presenting as she was starting her career. “I would shut down regular Rachel.”


4. Many Feel Bullied Afterward, or Not Taken Seriously

Some had experiences with well-meaning teachers who accidentally increased anxiety with tactics like making the class turn around while they were talking.

Stephen Magner, a senior experience designer, said he was sent to a speaking coach in the past. “She brought up my neck,” he said. “She told me to cover it.”

The women in the room talked about worrying that people don’t listen to them, and how this can subconsciously make them talk faster.

Our Head of Creative, Molly Waller, shared, “[When I was beginning my career], I felt like no one took me seriously. Like, ‘who is this child?’ It’s a thing for women. I got worried about ‘likes,’ ‘ums,’ and verbal tics.”

Kait Krueger, a project manager said in the past, “I felt like people didn’t care.”


“Confidence in the content brought confidence in myself.”



But along with all the commiserating, many had developed very smart tactics for defeating these problems.


1. Try Developing a Mantra

No, I’m not talking about “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me!” (Although use that if it works for you.) Instead, try something like what Stephen tells himself. “If I suck, I suck.” A more down to earth mantra is more likely to dismantle your fear.


2. Swap Inspiration for Badspiration

“I’m always keenly paying attention to how others present,” Stephen says. But watching only Brené Brown or Barack Obama can be paralyzing. Find a speech where someone tries, and fails, and watch that instead. It will remind you that you’re only human, and that’s ok.


3. Assemble a Power Outfit

Rachel remembers buying a Lauren Conrad for Kohl’s suit for an early speech in her career. A pantsuit might help bring a sense of power during a presentation. Or, maybe it makes you feel less like yourself if that’s not your thing. Look for an outfit that makes you feel comfortable in your own skin. I love wearing clunky Chelsea boots and cannot stand wearing high heels. To each their own.


“If I suck, I suck.”



4. Practice on Zoom

If standing in front of a room of people is too much, try presenting on Zoom a few times first. Being able to watch yourself speak, and others respond to you, gives you important feedback that helps you get better. “Plus,” Kait said, “if something goes wrong, I could just shut my laptop.” (Not that she does! But knowing she could makes her feel better.)


5. Lose the Script

Angely mentioned having to present information that was sometimes not … the most fun. To make this more enjoyable to present, she tried to understand the content as deeply as possible. “Confidence in the content brought confidence in myself,” she said.

For both Rachel and Molly, embracing their humor and personality unlocked an ability to present. “I realized I can be self-deprecating,” Molly said. For Rachel, “I stop to ask a question and tell the audience a joke.”

For almost everyone, loosening their grip on presentation notes or a script led to a more natural presentation. Eventually, they were able to present as themselves, and not like the person they thought the audience might expect.


There is Hope!

Gaining confidence in presenting can take time and practice, but it’s the only way to get better. I plan to share more content about finding your presentation style soon, so stay tuned!

To learn more about overcoming presentation anxiety and discovering what presentation style works for you, join Becky as she teaches our upcoming Extra Grind class, Find Your Presentation Style. 

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Artwork by Andrew Beckman

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