For many people, the thought of delivering a presentation makes them feel sick with nerves. But what if you’ve been booked to speak at an event and you are feeling unwell?
I was brought up with a strong work ethic and wouldn’t dream of not going to work unless I was in hospital or dead! I’ve also had many roles in theatre shows where I had no understudy so there was no option but to perform, or I would be letting down both my fellow cast members and the paying public. As the saying goes, “The show must go on.”
However, last weekend during the Professional Speaking Association Annual MEGA Conference, I was starting to worry that the show would not go on, or at least my 45 minute session wouldn’t. The conference ran from Friday until Sunday; my session was on Sunday morning and I started to feel unwell on Friday evening. By Saturday lunchtime I felt like I had been hit by a truck; my body ached, I was overcome with exhaustion and my mind was so jumbled that I could barely string two words together. I was concerned but determined not to let anyone down so on Sunday morning, despite not feeling 100%, I put on my happy face and delivered the session I had been booked to deliver.
I learnt some important lessons as a result – here is a quick overview of what worked for me and what I will do differently in the future:
1. No one needs to know
Regardless of the fact that I was feeling increasingly unwell (and the pressure of speaking in front of 200 professional speakers when I wasn’t in top form), I knew that I would do my best to deliver my session as promised. Therefore, I decided not to let people know that I was struggling with my health and kept it from the organisers – they had enough to worry about already, especially as it turned out that two other speakers had to cancel on Sunday! I’m so glad I was able to fulfil my obligations and I hadn’t worried anyone unnecessarily.
2. Cancel all non-essential commitments
I had been really looking forward to the convention, the speakers, the learning, the networking, the gala dinner and seeing the fabulous Celia Delaney providing the after dinner entertainment. But it wasn’t about my wishes; I knew I had to do whatever it took for me to show up on Sunday morning and give my all to the audience. So I stayed in my hotel room and focused on getting well.
3. Give yourself the time to rest
Our mind and body cannot continue to deliver what we need it to if we don’t give it enough time to rest and recuperate. I had a lot of work on in the lead up to the conference and had been burning the candle at both ends. Eventually I just had to stop and give it some rest or I would not have been capable physically or mentally to deliver a 45 minute presentation to the standard that I and the audience expected. A good night’s sleep definitely contributed to feeling a bit better by Sunday morning. In hindsight, I realise I should have managed my diary better in the lead up to the conference and ensured I had enough rest time.
4. Treat yourself well
Not only do we need enough rest but we also need to fuel our bodies with healthy foods to perform at our optimum. As I had been so busy I hadn’t been food shopping so wasn’t eating well enough to give my body the nutrition it required to function at its best. I had even run out of vitamins! Once again, a reminder to myself to make my health a priority and to balance work with looking after myself.
5. Warm up effectively to give your best
My talk was titled ‘Prime Your Body, Voice and Mind: Off Stage Secrets for On Stage Success’; ironic when I hadn’t prepared effectively in terms of looking after my health! However, the focus of my session was about warming up immediately prior to giving a presentation to ensure you are in a state of readiness and fully present when you step onto the speaking platform. Therefore, I took my own advice and did a thorough warm up of my body, voice and mind. This really helped to lift my energy and enabled me to focus fully on the audience and the task at hand. If you don’t currently warm up before a giving presentation, I strongly urge you to do so and notice the difference.
6. Get over yourself and get on with it
My partner laughs when I use the phrase “get over yourself”, but that’s exactly what you have to do sometimes to get on with it. After an obligatory moment of feeling sorry for myself, rather than dwelling on how poorly I felt it was important to focus on being positive and on doing whatever it took to ensure I was able to meet the expectations of the audience and the organisers.
Smiling releases endorphins that make you feel happier. Smiling is also contagious so it makes people around you feel good. Smiling, even when you don’t feel like it, is one of the best ways to feel better. I’m known for my smile so I shared it freely with the audience and by the end of my 45 minute session I felt much better. The feedback from the audience indicated that they felt good too!
Was I completely happy with my performance at the conference? No… (If I’m honest, I’m never completely happy and am always looking for ways to improve!) However, given the way I felt the day before, I was really pleased that I managed to find my sparkle and lift my energy enough to deliver the session to the best of my ability. And even better, the audience were none the wiser – they got what they needed and that’s all that matters!
Have you ever had to perform at your best when you’re feeling at your worst? What tips do you have to ensure the show goes on? I’d love to hear them; please do share in the comments section.
Mel Sherwood works with ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals who want to speak with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, which specialises in supporting individuals and organisations to design and deliver winning pitches and presentations.
Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s inspiring talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or follow Mel on Twitter @Grow_Potential