All / Originally Posted on Skirt

I Know You Can’t Die from Stage Fright, But…

Yesterday I delivered a talk about my research and all the wacky hijinks I got up to while I was in Cairo.  The talk went fine, certainly as well as I’d expected.  But I’m left feeling dissatisfied.

I hate public speaking.  I really, really hate it.  This is a common fear, I know.  According to some commonly-repeated statistics, three out of every four of you share this fear with me.  

You’d think that all the crazy things that happened to me in Cairo would
score much higher on the stress scale.  Not so: those things have the
winning virtue of being in the past and things I no longer have to
face, while there are undoubtedly further public speaking occasions in
the future. (Plus, they’re pretty funny, unlike me when I’m nervous.) 

Nervous as I was in crafting the content of the presentation, that’s nothing compared to the full-on panic that descends when I actually have to begin speaking.  My heart starts to pound, my throat constricts, I can’t breathe evenly, my stomach clenches.  

Actually, I can only count this as an improvement, since I used to feel like that most of the time.  In the past I’ve had to control my anxiety with medication, though thankfully it’s been several years since then.  If I only get that old familiar feeling in certain stressful situations, well, that’s not so bad. 

The real problem is that every adrenaline rush comes with an equally steep adrenaline crash.  Logically, I know from the beginning things won’t be so bad and I don’t really have anything to worry about.  Even so there’s not much I can do to stop the physical part of the fear.  Once I get into the swing of the talk I do relax a little bit, but the whole adrenaline crash thingy means that instead of getting a little boost of self-congratulation, fulfillment or relief when I’m finished, I just feel flat.  This makes it hard to want to give another talk.

I actually pressed for the chance to give this presentation, and to give another one next month, despite my fears.  My PhD requires speaking in a couple different settings – giving a talk to my department, delivering a paper at a conference, my viva exam.  Plus someday in the fullness of time I will graduate and plenty of jobs require giving presentations.  So I will keep pushing myself into public speaking situations, even though I’m still not exactly feeling the love.  The only way to get better is to keep doing it – and ultimately, this too will be in the past, just like the stuff that happened in Cairo.  Maybe then it’ll be funny.