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Can You Imagine This Happening at a Presentation?

By: Susan Dunn

Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach, coaches individuals and executives in emotional intelligence, and offers workshops, presentations, trainings, Internet courses and ebooks.  She is a regular presenter for the Royal Caribbean and Costa cruiselines.  Visit her on the web at and for FREE ezine.

I was well-prepared to give my talk to the congregation of the church, one that turned out to be a great learning experience. It’s a little confusing, but I was a fundraiser for a homeless shelter, but also served as PR chairman on many Boards, so I had two areas I spoke in: one was homelessness, and the other was church marketing.

Well, I’d been assigned to talk to this congregation for 15 minutes about homelessness, how they could help, etc. I remember I put on a black dress with a rose floral print that morning, and just felt super – ready to go!

I arrived at the church 10 minutes before the service began, and joined the 200+ members as the announcements were read. Then I heard my name announced, and the minister asked me to stand up to be identified. Then, to my horror, I heard him say “And Susan will be leading the Marketing Seminar from 9 a.m. to noon, in the blah blah room.”

Through the panic, all I remembered was hearing the minister saying, “You can’t miss her. She looks like a garden.”

I didn’t feel like a garden. I felt like throwing up. It also meant I’d been totally identified and couldn’t turn around and sneak out the front door.

Can you imagine my panic? No brochures, no outline, no grease board. I’d talked on marketing before, but a three-hour seminar is something else again.

At the same time I was tossing about for someone to blame for the mix-up. Someone had to be “an idiot” – either me, or my secretary, or the minister, or his secretary.

And at the same time I was thinking – I’ll pull this off I’ll be a hero/I’ll just tell them I can’t do it, that’s what anyone else would do, and I applauded and condemned myself for both approaches.

Mainly I wanted to sink into the floor, and the adrenalin pumping had already exhausted me.

Fortunately there was 30 more minutes worth of service before this “seminar” was to begin. I went out into the foyer and, yes, collected myself. Speaking in terms of emotional intelligence, I calmed my panicing “reptilian” reactions – Fear! Survival! Panic! I calmed myself down (self-talk, oh how sweetly I talked to myself), and then got rational about the whole thing. What were my options here, and what would my decision be?

I decided
  • Yes, I could do this. I’d done plenty of talks before on marketing. I knew my stuff.

  • I would stop thinking about whose fault this was, as it was exhausting me and flooding me with emotions. I would take care of that later.

  • I would jot down a quick outline I could follow.

  • I would be optimistic and count on the fact that every religious faith organization I’d ever spoken to had been welcoming and affirmative.

  • I would not mention the snafu, because I wasn’t rational about it. It was tempting to whine, “Do you know what ...” to the seminar attendees, but that wouldn’t be emotionally intelligent. Emotions are contagious. Mentioning it would give me a chance to vent, but it would make them unsure about my ability to do it, and that would work against me.

  • I had a choice – to do it or not to do it. If I did it, it wouldn’t be try, it would be do.

  • I figured chances were good I could pull it off once I calmed down, and that I would feel very good after I did. I could learn a lot from this, and I chose to have that experience.
And what did I learn?

Actually it was a very important turning point in my public speaking career. It’s as scared as I’ve been, and as scared as I ever will be. There’s a lot of power in that. Let’s face it, public speaking is most people’s #1 fear (I mean aside from real life-threatening crises) and it takes practice to learn to ride with the anxiety and harness it to improve your performance. Which it does. It you don’t get “up” for a talk, chances are you won’t be giving it your 100%.

My coach (all coaches have coaches) tells me “fear is excitement turned upside down,” and part of me was very excited about this opportunity. I knew if I could pull it off, I would gain immeasurable self-confidence. If I could face down this fear, I’d benefit greatly.

So what happened? Well, it went quite well. Nothing spectacular, but I did have a wonderful group, and, while it often feels like a cop-out, most people enjoy a seminar when you turn it over to them, which I did. The first half-hour we went over things they’d tried, and this gave me a chance to get my thoughts collected.

The experience added greatly to my resilience – my ability to bounce back from surprises of the unpleasant sort.

Now when I’m booked to speak on a cruise, and the agent is earnestly going over the ‘drill’ and he says, “You understand the slide projector may not be there, and the room may be changed and ...” I can smile inside and say, “And I know I can cope with whatever presents itself, because I know all about this from that time at the church ..."

I hope this never happens to you, but if it does, know that you can learn a lot from it that’s helpful. Most public speaking requires ingenuity, emotional intelligence and resilience. You have to be able to think on your feet, take things as they come, (wrong room, different group), have a Plan B and be resilient. And you know what they say – how do you learn to do it right? Through experience. And how do you get experience? By doing it wrong and overcoming difficulties.

Be willing to stretch and grow, and you can really conquer some fears and come out ahead!

© copyright, Susan Dunn, 2002

Other Articles by Susan Dunn

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