Overcoming Professional Anxiety

and how worrying keeps you stuck in the same routine 😳

I used to get a cold sweat when I spoke to more than one person at a time.

Just the idea of speaking up at team meetings would make my heart race and my stomach uneasy. 🤢

Even something routine as a daily status call would send my nerves into the dreaded fight-or-flight mode.  (FYI. I would often rehearse my 1-2 sentence updates before every meeting and hope no one asked a follow-up question.)

Fast-forward a few years and I just delivered my first presentation, live and in-person … and at a national conference, no less! 😬

As professionals, we’ve all been told at one point or another that ‘speaking’ is a fantastic way to further your career. At the very least, the act of presenting a topic on front of your peers tend to lend some credibility to your expertise.

If you’re anything like me, I’ve always looked up colleagues who look so comfortable on stage and who seem to be having the time of their lives. Interestingly, these are the same people who also seem to have the most success.

So what changed?

How could someone who is generally nervous in front of his managers and colleagues ever pull himself up to that podium and speak for 60 minutes?

Although I’m not out of the woods yet, I am trying to reverse-engineer the recent change in confidence and narrowed it down to these 3 things.

1. Taking a leap of faith

I’ve been asking my colleagues about their speaking experiences for the past 2-3 years and each person readily shared their advice.

Their support would range from “Just do it” to “your English is better than mine”. (I have to admit, that last one left me embarrassed.)

But it was my very good friend Amber, a seasoned speaker and well-accomplished business owner, who gave me that much-needed kick in the butt and suggested I submit an abstract to the ASUG Fall Focus conference, a relatively new event for supply chain professionals.

I trust Amber implicitly and if it wasn’t for this friendly nudge, I don’t think I would have ever made the leap (bypassing the local chapter meetings, no less).

2. Making a small shift in thinking

Instead of presenting, Amber suggested that I view it as a conversation (and that made all the difference).

So I minutes before the talk, I changed my approach. Instead of saying things like “this is best practice” and forcing ideas upon the audience, I simply shared my experience in hopes that others would avoid some common obstacles.

  •  “This worked really well, but this other thing did not.”
  • “Have you also ran into this issue?”
  • “Here’s something I found that might help you.”

Because it wasn’t an authoritative approach (where I position myself as an expert), the talk becomes more like a dialog between myself and the audience.

I wasn’t preaching about the benefits a product or a process, which also alleviates the imposter syndrome. I simply shared my experience and asked for theirs.

3. Having a tribe that wants to see you succeed

Before the presentation, friends were sending me emails and texts, wishing me well. They all knew I’ve been a nervous wreck for weeks.

After we reviewed the slides but before we were scheduled to begin, Amber (who was also my co-presenter) stopped me from a last-minute rehearsal.

(FYI, I had written down every line of my speech and I really wanted to memorize it one last time.)

She sensed my nerves were starting to go into overdrive so she calmed me back down. “You already know what to say”, she assured me.

Even though I had not practice or review my notes that morning, I trust her and we went into the presentation with only 10-15 minutes of our one rehearsal together.

And guess what? The presentation went swimmingly.

People in the audience were smiling and laughing.

We made it through and entertained a small crowd who were surprisingly engaged, considering the talk was scheduled an hour after lunch and on the second day of the conference.

Celebrating a successful presentation with my friends Amber and Paul

Summary

If I could pass on a small bit advice to the next nervous introvert who is summoning the courage to speak in front of his/her peers, then it would be this.

Things in the real-world are usually less dramatic than you imagine, view your talk as a conversation instead of a speech, and there are plenty of people who want to see you succeed.

For the visual learners, here’s a motivational video 🤣

P.S. What advice could you give to nervous introverts like me for the next presentation? Please chime in with your comments (click here).