Sweaty palms. Shaking hands. S-s-stuttering voice. Look up and speak. But nothing comes out of my mouth. That is my worst fear when it comes to class presentations. I dreaddd public speaking. Seriously. I dread it and have spent the majority of my life trying to avoid class presentations in any sense. When I receive my syllabi for my courses, the first thing I look at is the marking scheme and assignments. Every year, I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid the dreaded class presentation…until now.
Three out of my four years at U of T almost completed and I thought that I would be able to sail through without standing at the front of my class with a Power Point presentation. Alas, it was never meant to be. My class presentation was meant to be fifteen minutes long, and to discuss a course theme. As a class, we were lucky enough to decide what week we wanted to do our individual presentations.
This was the beginning of how I combated my fear of public speaking. I picked a week in which I had no assignments or prior commitments, and then I narrowed it down to what topic I thought I could talk about for 15 minutes (sounded like a really, really long time to me at the beginning). After that, I sought out my professor to see what criteria I would be graded on during this presentation. Mostly, my professor was looking for a well thought out presentation with clarity, eye contact with the audience (my fellow students), and knowledge on the subject. My professor also reminded me that practicing my presentation beforehand would help immensely. I’m also in a smaller sized class, so I wasn’t really worried about standing up in front of my classmates because there weren’t going to be hundreds of eyes staring back at me.
I took a few steps to combat the possibility that I may just get up in front of my class and…say nothing. I did my research, complied my Power Point together, and made sure that I knew the material well enough. Then I began to practice. I felt sort of silly, standing in front of my laptop in my bedroom, speaking out loud to an invisible audience. But I knew that I had to do it. First, I timed myself to see if I was meeting the required 15 minute speaking period. Next, I noticed some things about my presentation which were potentially embarrassing. For example, I say “Ummm” or “Uhhh” when I’m thinking or when I’ve lost my place. Not great.
Long pauses may have made it seem like I didn’t know the material as well as I thought I did. The best accommodation that my professor made for all of us was that we were allowed to have an outline with us while we were presenting. I presented my information in a way that there was minimal information on my Power Point, so that I could demonstrate that I knew the material and could present it well.
It went better than expected. I got up in front of the class, introduced myself and my topic, took a deep breath, and began. Everything went smoothly and my classmates seemed to be engaged with what I had to say. Thankfully, I hadn’t put anyone to sleep. By the end, I had said “Thank you”, and waited for my professor’s feedback. My presentation had gone well…expect for a minor detail. On some of my slides, I had accidentally misspelled an author’s last name. I frantically looked through my presentation, and noticed that I had made that minor slip up. I felt embarrassed because I’m very meticulous about my grammar and spelling, and had even proofread my presentation beforehand.
However, as that was the only criticism regarding my presentation, I came to the realization that it’s okay. It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes and to learn from them. It’s okay for everything not to go perfectly all the time. Public speaking used to scare me until no end. But I realized that it was a pretty good experience, and it felt awesome to present my ideas to my classmates. This should be applicable for all assignments: sometimes I will succeed, sometimes I will not. But the most important thing is that I’ve learned something, and this experience taught me to embrace my fears.