Most of us have been through the nightmare of having to give a presentation. 18 year-old Jodie Chapman talks us through her recent experience and gives advice on how to cope with them.
In January I had to do a presentation at college on an enzymes experiment we did in Chemistry. In it we had to talk about our aims and predictions for the experiment, the equipment we used, the methodology, results and then give an evaluation and a conclusion. We had ten minutes in which to do it. Being an unconfident person (because of my stammer), I was very nervous about it.
On the morning of the presentation I felt really sick. On the way to college I was shaking and had a full sweat on. On the bus I did actually think I was going to throw up! My heart was racing and I simply could not relax.
I met up with my friends in the lesson beforehand. One of them asked how many slides I had included, and was panicking because I had done more than her... which made me panic because I thought I had done too many! I told them that I was really worried. I was scared because I was desperate to get a distinction for this assignment, and for that you have to present with ‘confidence and polish’. They told me I was going to be absolutely fine. They said, “Just think, you're getting it done and out the way today, so you won't have to do it on Friday," which made me feel a bit more at ease. I had emailed my teacher the day before, telling her how nervous I was. She suggested I pretend I was talking to an empty room, which helped. She also gave me an extra minute to do it in because of my speech.
Once I got to the classroom I felt so scared. My heart was racing and I was having a cold sweat. Normally I would have a homeopathic pastille to help me calm down before doing these types of things, but I didn't have time, as my teacher arrived shortly after and asked if I was ready to do the presentation. She reassured me and said I'd be fine. She then told the other students that they could work on their computers or watch me, but either way they HAD to be quiet. This took the pressure off a bit. She also told them to be nice to me (I think she was referring to my stammer and that they shouldn't laugh if I got stuck on a word). Then I remember her saying, "Whenever you're ready," a sentence I was dreading.
Then I remember my teacher saying, ‘Whenever you're ready,’ a sentence I was dreading.
In the moment
I had a dry mouth and throat throughout and a sweaty back. I didn't think I would get everything said in time. I sped through it and stammered quite a lot in the process; I think the speed caused me to stammer more. But for the first time ever I actually ignored everyone else and imagined I was just talking to the teacher. When I did block, I either concentrated on reading from the slide or the flash card. I knew I couldn't just read from them; I had to make eye contact with the audience, which I did. However, my teacher said that if I wanted to, I could look out the window while speaking. I really didn't care about my stammer at the time, because I was just so eager to say my stuff and get it out the way.
When I finished I remember my teacher saying, "I bet you're glad it's all done now. It wasn't that bad, was it?" It was definitely the best presentation I've ever done, and the one that I'm the most proud of. I felt so relieved. As it turned out, I got no response (good or bad) from the other students when I stammered.
If anyone has a presentation coming up, I would say that it helps to talk to someone about it. Tell a friend, family member or teacher how you feel and what you think will happen. They’ll be able to reassure you that it will be fine. Ask your teacher if you can do your presentation first out of everyone in the group, which will mean you won’t have to wait and worry. If it’s a timed presentation, ask for extra time. If you see a speech therapist, ask them for coping strategies. My therapist reminded me to use ‘soft onsets’ and to say the first sounds really slowly to help the words flow together better. Before the presentation, try telling your audience that you have a stammer (if they don't already know); this will not only reassure them, but you will feel a bit more relaxed because they are aware that you might stammer.
Also, try and sound confident in what you're saying. Practice the presentation until you know it inside out. Try and relax the night before. Take a hot bath and listen to music. But the main thing is to have fun whilst you're up there. Speak from the heart. It’s really not the end of the world if you stammer, and people will not think less of you.
And do you want to know what grade I got for my presentation? A distinction!
From Speaking Out, Spring 2014, p.7