How to manage your feelings before a public presentation of your work

We often talk about presentation skills and the need to develop those skills so we impress in a group and even a large audience. But today, let’s consider feelings when you present your work – your project, your report, your book, your film, your art, your review – to a broader audience – say a whole community, or across your industry, maybe internationally.

I am grappling with my own feelings as I approach a countdown to July 31, the premiere date for my feature-length documentary Shadow of Doubt, only two weeks away. While my main work is in the business and company environment, I have also been filming in Tasmania – flying back and forth to Hobart over the last four years.

I became aware that a woman close in age to me was arrested for a murder, but she vehemently denied any involvement. The case was totally circumstantial – no body, no weapon, no witnesses to the crime, no confession, and no direct forensic evidence linking her to the crime.

I was shocked that many Tasmanians had made statements like ‘she looks evil’, ‘she did it’ or worse still ‘we know she did it’. It has been a long journey for me and the film – and for Sue Neill-Fraser who was originally sentenced to 26 years (later reduced to 23) the journey is a very long one.

While I am not normally fearful of public speaking – in fact I thrive on every opportunity – this is a very different public presentation. The film is seriously questioning the evidence, police investigation, the trial, the jury, and Tasmania and Australia’s justice system. I have to keep reminding myself that change is urgently needed and films can bring about change.

Fortunately, two years ago another woman – brilliant lawyer, justice crusader and former police leader, anti-corruption and pharmacy/forensics expert Barbara Etter APM – is now on the case. It is so much easier working on a challenging project where you find someone else with huge passion and expertise working on the same path. Barbara has continually written breathtaking blogs on the anomalies of this case and the inadequacies of the police investigation.

So here are my steps for managing the fear associated with sharing your work publicly:

Focus on the goals of the project

In this case to change perceptions and right a wrong, someone is in prison and that person needed a fair trial.

You need to be aware of the current position that people hold before you consider moving them to a new position. They may be starting out as indifferent, or completely opposed to your view, but being able to attune to their position gives you a much more potent starting point.

Align with other strong players of like mind and expertise, or bring in relevant expertise

Even when you’re an expert in your field, nobody has all the answers. If you are looking to create something potent and credible then reach out and engage experts. It gives you exposure to new ideas and information as well as giving your message more potency.

Ensure that key influencers are made aware and can view your work

A message without an audience isn’t going to change anything, so reaching out and inviting influential people to hear your message is such an important part of being discovered, considered and debated.

Share the reviews of others about your work to bring in more people to rethink their views

Don’t be scared of criticism and review. More importantly, don’t consider your presentation a finished piece unless you’ve had it critiqued along the way. It is far too common for people to avoid criticism along the way only to present to a large audience with a gaping hole in their work or presentation.

Be clear about facts and remain calm and factual in discussions

Especially when presenting on emotive issues, you need to use facts to bring the conversation back to an objective standpoint. Becoming engaged in an emotional battle of personalities usually results in both parties being frustrated and none of them conceding ground. The facts will keep you calm and give you a chance to influence people.

Be open to encouragement and criticism

Encouragement feels great. It gives us motivation and confidence. Criticism can do the opposite and that is why so many people shun it. But closing off to criticism is also closing off to opportunities to improve. Let criticism in on the basis of improvement. Is it merely an opinion, or something that will guide you closer to your goals?

Debate honestly and openly

Most people treat a presentation, a book, a film or a report like a broadcast, a one-way conversation in which everyone is there to soak up the message. But great works and presentations are inclusive, they can go in new directions and for this reason engaging in open and honest debate is excellent in reinforcing your position against doubt or challenges. Don’t be scared of debate – it is an excellent reinforcer of your message.

Keep reminding yourself of the goals at all levels

Strategies and presentations unravel when people become too self-conscious (which is different to self-aware). Self-consciousness is about increased stress around how you may or may not be performing, whereas self-awareness is more about other people, and keeping an objective eye on how your message is being received. And losing persistence and confidence is the key killer to so much great work and many change strategies – so I have to tell myself and others – hang in there and remember why you started this!

When you combine this self-awareness with an awareness of the effect you want to be having on the audience – the message you’re conveying and emotions you want to evoke – then you will be able to stay on track, or adjust for the future.

You can see my documentary premiering on Foxtel (Crime Investigation Network – channel 617) at 7.30pm on Wednesday, July 31.

In addition there is a cinema premiere at the historic State Cinema in Hobart on the same night at 8.30pm with a Q&A panel afterwards featuring myself and two brilliant lawyers – Barbara Etter APM and Greg Barns.

Eve Ash welcomes any feedback [email protected]

Eve Ash has produced some excellent DVDs and resources on bullying, including a comedy approach to introduce the topic as a preventative and to help bullies and the bullied recognise the need for change.

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