Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Presentation skills

My son recently had to give a speech at his graduation. He was the salutatorian (I had to look it up), and so was asked to inspire his fellow graduates and their families with erudite, pithy, and amusing words of wisdom.

He is 10. And while I am a firm believer in allowing kids to do their own work and make their own mistakes, I couldn't let the lad fail in front of 500 people. So I became, for two brief weeks, a stage mom.

We brainstormed ideas for his speech. ("You need one idea. No rambling nonsense. If you tell them more than one thing, you've told them too much.")

He wrote it, and I reviewed it. Ruthlessly. ("Where's the structure? It's all about structure. Repetition and structure.")

And then we rehearsed. And rehearsed. And rehearsed again.

I had the poor fellow recite it in the kitchen. ("Slow down.") On the stairs looking down at a family audience of 3 people and 2 cats. ("Slower.")  With his notes. ("Pause between each sentence.") Without his notes. ("You need to know this inside and out so you can think on your feet.")

I was unbearable. Because I do this a lot. And I know that you had better be prepared, because things don't always go according to plan.

Just yesterday, we had a presentation at work. There were 30 people squeezed into a conference room that bulges at the seams with 20. My jacket was tight. It was hot. I was thirsty. I stood up to present, and realized to my horror that I was quite unable to draw a breath. I gasped. I spluttered a sentence. I sipped some water. I took a shallow breath, in order not to burst the buttons on my jacket, and spluttered some more. It was the most uncomfortable presentation experience of my life.

Afterwards, a colleague mentioned that she liked the way I took my time, and drew deep, thoughtful breaths between each point. I disabused her of this notion, and explained that I was in fact hyperventilating, and had almost died for want of a paper bag to breathe into.

"Oh," she replied. "I thought you were doing it for emotional effect."

At least they didn't see the whites of my eyes.

On graduation day, my son was spiffy and smart in his new suit and shiny shoes. He climbed up to the podium, where he had to stand on a stool so he could see over the top. He looked around calmly (just like mummy told him to), smiled (ditto), and took a deep breath (ditto, although he was in no danger of losing his buttons). Then he began...

He did a lovely, lovely job. I commented that he looked so comfortable up there, as if he presented to 500 people on a regular basis.

"Were you nervous?"
"Yes. My trousers were shaking."

Bless his heart.

I was so proud. Because even with shaking trousers, he didn't let us see the whites of his eyes.

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