I was standing behind my podium, and I began our presentation. A minute or two into introductions and laying out the reason for our talk, I lost my train of thought. A second or two suddenly grew into a very noticeable and pregnant pause. I glanced across the room at my co-presenter, who was standing behind another podium, hoping he would bail me out. The look on his face told me I was on my own. I glanced up at the audience, and the face of my instructor in the back row of the room. She was looking over her glasses at me with a frown that screamed ‘you aren’t prepared, are you?’
I wasn’t. I didn’t review my notes prior to the class, thinking it would go better if I ‘just winged it’.
In reality I stopped talking about 2.3 seconds ago, but it felt as if we were in Day Three of Mack’s Great Silence. I glanced back down at my notes, and for a brief second I seriously considered running from the classroom, even giving the door a few feet from my podium a sideways glance.
Thankfully, I found enough composure to finish the presentation, and I believe I ended up with a B in the Business Communications course. But I just wanted out of there and left knowing that if I never had to give another presentation in my life, I would be a happy camper.
Fast forward almost exactly 9 years to last week in Boston at the B2B Forum. As I was talking to other attendees and we were discussing our favorite sessions and especially how good the keynotes were, I caught myself thinking ‘I really wish I was presenting here’.
The lesson I’ve learned from this is that your failures can lead to successes. I used to hate public speaking, as most introverts do. Now I love it, because I found a way to learn from my past failures, instead of letting them define my ability to speak in public. I learned from that horrible experience in undergrad, and now prepare meticulously for every presentation. I always know the material well enough that I can ‘just talk about it’, and that greatly improves the quality of my presentations.
Nine years ago I was so nervous in front of a room of undergrads that I seriously considered running from the room, now I love speaking, and get paid to do so. Life can be funny sometimes.
What failures have you used to shape your current successes?