Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax. No big deal. They are children. You’ve presented to adults before, and they are a tougher crowd. This is easy peasy.
I stop fiddling with the computer, take a deep breath and turn to face my audience. The chatter stops, a quiet descends on the room and a hundred curious eyes stare back at me.
Shit in a box. Why are there so many of them? And staring so intently? Oh man, it’s ‘Children of the Corn’ creepy.
My face heats with embarrassment. Sweat beads form on my brow. My heart thumps like a jack hammer against my ribs. My armpits feel damp. Giant waves of nausea rolls through me. I could puke. The power pose and the upbeat song did little to quell my nervousness.
I stand next to the teacher as she introduces me to the grade one year level but I quickly make use of the nearby stool upon realising that my legs don’t want to play ball. I babble about needing to drink water for my non-existent dry cough. I rub my sweaty palms along my thighs. I take another fortifying breath and try to calm my frayed nerves. I’m a jumbled mess inside. I feel exposed and naked, like my self-worth rests on this one presentation. It’s no wonder public speaking is feared more than death.
“Hi everyone, I’m really excited to be here,” I say, mustering all the enthusiasm that an anxiety ridden person with a humongous fear of public speaking can. I hear the tremble in my voice. I wonder if anyone else notices.
As I begin my presentation, a glance at one of the teachers makes me lose my train of thought. People say to make eye contact with the audience and to find a friendly face to build your confidence. So what do I do? My eyes scan and fall on the one person in the room wearing a frown.
Why is she scowling? She looks like she’s constipated. Maybe she’s concentrating. Yes, that’s gotta be it. No way is she judging me so early in the piece. Fudge, where was I?
“Uh… so… um… you take a plane to get there?” I stutter as I point my shaky finger towards the map on the screen.
Fudge, I have no idea where I am.
People say to rehearse but not memorise because it will give you a false sense of security and can hasten brain freeze if you forget a phrase or sentence or are thrown off track. The increase in stress hormones causes a shut down of the frontal lobe making retrieval of memories harder. You can guess what I chose to do, can’t you? The distraction causes my stress levels to erupt to catastrophic levels and my mind decides that it has had enough. It erects a sign, ‘Gone Fishing’ and blanks. I cut my losses with this slide. One down, seven to go.
“Let’s move on to the next slide,” I mumble, turning back to the computer to press the arrow key. Nothing happens. The screen goes dark.
Shit. Train wreck! Can I have a meltdown now? I don’t need this. Fudge, carry on fool, carry on!
A teacher fixes the PowerPoint presentation. I turn to face the children, who are waiting expectantly. People say to take elongated pauses, to take deep calming breaths and to shift your attention to the next point. I take a moment to remember why I am here. I look at Mandy and gather my strength to continue.
Remember to breathe. Calm the farm. I CAN DO THIS!
I decide to forget my talk and go with the flow. I take pauses between slides and pick a couple of important points that are interesting for a seven-year-old. I interact with the crowd by asking impromptu questions. I remember to smile and eventually I relax. The children are eager with their questions and that encourages me to soldier on. There are smiles and giggles. Seeing their excitement and interest makes me feel less anxious about my performance.
Enjoy this. Live in the moment. No one is judging you.
I see a child fervently waving his hand to get my attention, so I stop to let him ask a question.
“My dad’s a lawyer,” he states proudly.
Ugh, OK. Cool story dude.
“Wow, that’s… awesome,” I reply. Children really do say the most random shit.
I plow through my presentation and I’m relieved to feel relaxed and confident delivering my last slide. The bell goes and the children ready to go home. There is a small group that stay back to tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation. One of the boys brings me a page of his artwork as a gift for my efforts. A girl tells me that she thinks I look pretty in my dress. The teachers tell me I did a great job. I’m just glad it’s over.
As I leave hand in hand with my daughter, she glances up at me, eyes full of admiration and says, “You did a really good job Mum.” My heart swells with love for my child. Her words of praise make every minute of my discomfort and anxiety worthwhile. Plus, it really wasn’t that bad.
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