Garr Reynolds on Presentation Anxiety

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting Digital Arts and Design teacher Suzy Johnson’s class. I talked with her class about the meat of the REAL Delivery approach, which is derived from both Nancy Duarte (my students know her as the fairy godmother of presenting) and Garr Reynolds (known as the master of Zen).

I chose the more relevant pieces of information for this group (and presenting this time around taught me much about how I’ll adapt the message to the audience in future visits–more focus on audience) and spent some time discussing the lizard brain portion of REAl Delivery. In researching yesterday’s class, I ran across this article from Presentation Zen titled, “Coping with Presentation Anxiety & Stage Fright”. In the article, Garr discusses the quickly infamous Michael Bay appearance at CES in early January. I’d heard my students talk about this derisively and then took a moment to watch the video myself:

I have to agree with Reynolds in saying that this is not really an instance in which to be unkind to Bay (this is actually much of what drives our anxiety about presenting–the idea that those in the public eye are somehow just naturally better at this than the rest of us). Instead, it’s more important to remember the three takeaways Reynolds highlights:

1. Presenting is not easy

Presenting takes in-depth preparation, contemplation, and deliberate action. It's only good if it's a challenge!

Presenting takes in-depth preparation, contemplation, and deliberate action. It’s only good if it’s a challenge! Click image for source.

For anyone. Every presentation is high stakes (Duarte 2008): the death or life of your idea, company, livelihood, followers’ commitment to your cause, and it’s your job to devote 36-90 hours of time (Duarte 2008) to pre-production, content development, idea visualization, and rehearsal.This is no small or easy task. Any and every one of us when placed into a particular context will face a challenging speaking situation.

As you become accustomed to public speaking and presenting over time you will grow more comfortable and able to be more natural, letting “the real you” come out. But if you are still quite nervous about the idea of presenting in front of others, don’t worry, virtually every confident and engaging presenter you see today was at some point earlier in their careers much less sure of themselves in front of a live audience. –Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen

2. Everyone deals with presentation anxiety

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The lizard brain or amygdala was early human’s best friend, but it can sabotage even the people we perceive as masters of public speaking. Click image for source.

The lizard brain or amygdala has kept us alive for a good long time and it’s this that kicks into high gear when we are faced with a public speaking situation. The lizard brain is what tells you you need to fly or run from this situation (or from the self-created anxieties related to this situation–the what ifs), but it’s also what gives your body energy and adrenaline to brave a difficult situation. Every single one of us has a lizard brain trigger point (unless you are a zombie, a robot, or a mutant), and every one of us has to find the way to push past that trigger point and be awesome.

3. It’s better to prepare well and speak from the heart than speak off of a teleprompter or script.

This is a common scenario--a presenter begins speaking and faces the crowd, as he or she progresses, the dependency on slides or script as security blanket grows. By the end of the presentation, the presenter's back is to the audience, the focus entirely on the teleprompter.

This is a common scenario–a presenter begins speaking and faces the crowd, as he or she progresses, the dependency on slides or script as security blanket grows. By the end of the presentation, the presenter’s back is to the audience, the focus entirely on the teleprompter. Click image for source.

The biggest single trigger of Bay’s fight or flight reflex was that he was reading a script and worse than that a script he hadn’t written himself. It’s impossible to feel comfortable in someone else’s skin–unless you have years of practice and training as a speaker and performer. For most of us, speaking off of a script (even if it’s our own ideas, there’s a lack of genuineness that comes from the way we write vs. the way we speak) or using someone else’s presentation is an anxiety-causing nightmare. Comfort and confidence comes from the sharing of one’s unique ideas and perspectives.

Check out the rest of the article on Presentation Zen for tips on calming presentation nerves and reassurance that yes, this may happen to everyone, but there’s a way to win in the end!

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3 thoughts on “Garr Reynolds on Presentation Anxiety

  1. […] Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting Digital Arts and Design teacher Suzy Johnson’s class.  […]

  2. […] “Garr Reynolds on Presentation Anxiety” is an expansion of an amazing lizard-brain piece posted on Presentation Zen earlier this month. […]

  3. […] Garr Reynolds on Presentation Anxiety […]

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