I remember my first middle school presentation as a blur of me stuttering profusely right before tripping over an overhead projector cord into the whiteboard, which left me with a bruised face, broken ego, and my teacher’s reassuring words that “presenting gets easier with time.”
To put it simply – presentations are the worst. Standing in front of a large body of people (or even just one person) and attempting to talk for more than thirty seconds while blank, judging eyes stare back at you is scary and unnerving. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone in my twenty years of life who has rejoiced upon seeing the word “Presentation” on a syllabus.
Now as a college student who has years of presentations under her belt, it really doesn’t feel like it’s any easier. My mouth still feels like it is full of cotton, and my legs are numb about ninety percent of the time. If I’m lucky, my heart rate might slow down twenty minutes after I finish whatever I was presenting. It still sucks, but I have gotten to the point where I don’t stumble over my words or slam my face into the wall anymore, so I’ll count that as a win.
So, when I saw that I was listed as Discussion Leader for my political science recitation, I was on the verge of tears. Discussion Leader is just a really nice way of saying “present this subject to the class and then wait for people to either respond to you with questions you aren’t prepared for or sit there silently as everyone avoids eye contact for ten minutes.” Needless to say, I was concerned.
Preparing for a presentation seems impossible – but it is honestly the only thing that helps you feel more confident and ready to meet your doom. For me, it is best to start out small. Plan what you’re going to say on flashcards and reread them as much as possible. When figuring out my political science presentation, those cards felt like a lifeline in my pocket. I read them before I went to bed, getting ready for class in the morning – any spare second I had. I’ll go ahead and apologize to my roommates for the times when they walked in and saw me pacing around while talking about fiscal policy at one in the morning.
It is really all about practice. People always say to look in the mirror or go in the shower where nobody can hear you say the same speech five times in a row. And, thankfully, we are in the era where yes, there is an app for that. For this particular case, the app is LikeSo, that uses voice recognition technology to capture your speech and analyzes and grades your sessions based on both the number of filler words you use (like, ya know, totally!) and your pace (150 wpm is apparently considered optimal).
With LikeSo, all I needed to do was select Presentation under Type of Goal, put in the Target Date, and the Length of Event (in my case, a horrific five minutes). I added in that I would like daily Reminders to practice and I was good to go. I was able to forget about standing in front of my recitation for another day until the reminder went off and I opened the app again to practice. I clicked on FreeStyle mode and went over my presentation. Afterward, I was given my different scores based on how I did – Articulate Score, Fillers, Pace, Speech Conditioning Score, etc. And I was able to track my progress. The app calls this Speech Fitness and it was great to chart how well I was doing like you would preparing for a race. The next day I got another reminder and the process started all again.
LikeSo also offers different Topics under its TalkAbout mode. I chose Debate Team with prompts like Taxes, Right to Healthcare, and Death Penalty to practice speaking on the fly. If anybody tried to dispute my prepared speech, I was ready. By the time my presentation rolled around I had reached my target Speech Conditioning Score and was (somewhat) confident I had practiced enough so that everything was under control.
In the end, I didn’t get a standing ovation or roses thrown at me, but the confidence I felt and the grade I got more than made up for it.
Up until I was seventeen, I was content to lie in bed and wait until the dreaded time came for me to get a presentation over with. While that approach worked for a period of time, I have discovered I am less likely to sustain an injury (both mental and physical) if I practice Speech Fitness and just take a deep breath and practice.
LikeSo, 99 cents in the App Store: https://sayitlikeso.com/