In my twenty years, I cannot recall a single time where I have enjoyed public speaking. Not one. Now that public speaking has actually become some bit of a necessity to me in the last few years between university work and real world work, I still can never feel myself improving at it.
Thankfully, presentations have never been a huge aspect of my university course as I have to do, an average, one each semester. However, that doesn’t stop me being awfully afraid of them as I am terrified even thinking about it for the days leading up to it.
I’ve given some pretty bad presentations in my three years of university. I’m fully aware that the rest of the class probably didn’t find my presentation as terrible as I did, but that never stopped me from feeling horrible afterwards.
One of the worst instances happened while on Erasmus in the University of Salford, I had to join a module late due to a timetable clash. On my first day in this new class, I found out that half of our grade was dependent on a group presentation. Although it’s not my ideal assignment I didn’t really think much of it until the lecturer told me that all of the groups had already been formed and it was too late for me to join any of them. Instead, I had to do an entire forty-minute group presentation on my own on a text we were studying that was deemed to be too difficult for a group of four people to research. On top of that, it was in front of a huge group of drama students who seemed to be incredibly critical of everyone’s presentation and made sure that the students presenting were aware of every detail of every mistake that they made. As you can imagine, I really didn’t feel great after that one.
Don’t get me wrong, not every presentation I’ve done has been as bad as that one. I’ve been in some really great groups for presentations with people who were really interesting and incredibly motivated which made me feel much better about the whole situation. However, I’ve also been in some awful groups and I’ve conducted some terrible presentations myself.
Although I never really feel like I’m improving my public speaking skills, when I think back to some of my first presentations back in my first year of university I was not half as decent at them as I am now. Three years ago, I was incredibly shy and could barely look a stranger in the eye. While some people may still consider me to be quite shy, I’m nowhere near as introverted as I was back then. So I guess that’s something.
Sometimes I genuinely do think that presentations are problematic and cause a lot more anxiety and stress than they’re worth but when I think about it realistically, public speaking skills are something that I will always need. I might as well practice them now in front of a group of students who probably aren’t even listening and are scrolling through Facebook instead, rather than in front of a group of professionals who have years of experience.
Practice makes perfect, I guess.