The world has two kinds of people. Those who can speak in public and those who have the fear of speaking in public. I belong to the latter group. I always have. Speaking among friends? No problem. Speaking one on one with strangers? No problem. Ask me to go on stage and address them? Then there is a real problem!
The Management Communications course at the Lagos Business School made me realise that I am not alone. There are many more like me. I do have deep respect for people that can get on stage in front of strangers and just flow as if they are having an informal conversation. I have had quite a few presentations, many to strangers. I find myself stuttering; I find myself using filler words (em…. em…); I find myself repeating myself; I find myself speaking very fast, and perhaps breaking all the rules of presentations.
And so part of the rites of passage of an MBA student is the ability to present to an audience of potential investors. The potential investors in this case are one’s classmates, and you get to pitch an investment prospect to them in one minute – the famed elevator pitch. Dr. Eugene Ohu classifies the walls of the classroom as safe grounds, a sort of arena to practice where you make mistakes and learn from them. Better to make your mistakes amongst your colleagues than do so publicly in a gathering of perhaps mostly unfamiliar faces who may not be so forgiving. And unforgiving could also imply losing investment opportunities, not because the business pitch was not attractive, but perhaps the presenter was not convincing.
And so it was that Dr Ohu gave us the assignment to make a 60-second presentation to the class. I had interacted virtually with everyone in the class. That was no problem. We had joked, laughed, argued and interacted often. That was no issue. But then asking me to speak in front of everyone? Now that’s an issue, even if it was these same people I had been speaking and closely interacting with, for over eight weeks.
One piece of advice we were given was practice and practice. This piece of advice was very helpful. I spent several hours of practice in front of the mirror, pacing the room and engaging in other ‘presentation preparation’ rituals. I timed myself to ensure I stayed within the one-minute time limit.
On D-day, I had built quite a level of confidence. But no matter how hard you practice, in obeisance to Murphy’s Law, whatever will go wrong will go wrong. And so it was that I got on stage. I had been told to ‘own the stage’, I paced around; I was told to project my voice, I spoke very loudly, and I was told to connect with the audience and I looked those I could in the eye.
It was one of the longest ‘one minutes’ of my life. I lost track of some of the words I wanted to utter and I could feel my voice shaking. I just wanted the one minute to be over and I just wanted to get back to my seat. In the end, I perhaps overcame, was told about areas I should work on. I have had another presentation and I did quite well if I can say so myself.
I would usually pass evade any public speaking opportunity unless I absolutely had no choice. But then, I have realised that evasion was tantamount to ‘abdicating my duties.’
On paper, I could be a beast, a lion. I write pretty well. On video calls, I am like a jaguar, still a big cat. But on stage, I am like a cat, the domestic cat. I would like to be a lion, especially on stage. I am working towards it.