Public Speaking: What are You Afraid of?

Communications January 27, 2022 100

By Pearl Utuk

Standing before a room full of people can make you suddenly realize what a bad idea having that beautiful cup of tea this morning was. Thoughts of your inadequacies and how Mr Y or Miss G will always be the best person for such a daunting task, would begin to torment you. Next thing you know, sweat is pouring out of glands you didn’t even know you had.

Stop. Breath in. Hold it in. Breath out slowly. (Seriously, do it!)

Pearl Utuk gives a presentation on the poor state of PHCs in administrating COVID vaccines

What are you really afraid of? 

Stammering? Your mind suddenly going blank? Fear of not being good enough? Fear that you do not really understand the subject matter? Fear of being ridiculed by your audience? Once you have been able to appropriately identify the source of your fears, you have solved your own problems by 50%. Congratulations. 

Let me share my story. 

In October 2021, I was asked to represent my organisation (CODE) at a congregation of health experts from around the world with focus on the African Continent- Global Emerging Pathogens Treatments Consortium (GET-Africa) Conference. You see, we had just concluded the first phase of COVID-19 Transparency and Accountability Project (CTAP) in 7 African Countries. I was the Programme Officer for Nigeria where we had tracked the State of Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) so it made sense that I should present the findings of the PHC campaign at the conference. 

But hey! I’m not talking about a bunch of development professionals or to children in underdeveloped communities where I could just be myself and enjoy humanity in its most basic form. I’m talking about top guns like the Nigerian Ministry of Health, WHO, a United Nations body (UNODA), NPHCDA, the Lagos State Governor, the marines and many other “adults”. The child in me began whimpering. I began hyperventilating and sweating despite the cold blast of the air conditioning. 

CODE had spent a lot of money bringing me to that conference and like it or not, I was going to deliver and so I became my own shrink. I spoke to myself in the mirror for at least a week, I practiced my presentation, I even inserted a joke in my opening. 

When I got to the hall, I made myself look into each of their faces. I saw them for the flawed humans they are. These magnificent and brilliant minds that have issues of their own. No, they do not have life all figured out. They take chances just like me and they hope with bated breaths that they made the right choice, just like me. They feel pain and joy, they laugh and cry (well, most of them do). And when they go home, they take off their magnificent regalia and put on shorts and slippers too. 

A beautiful realization hit me soon after. They were all waiting with expectation for my presentation! And so with my head held high and shoulders squared, I climbed the podium and began with “I am not a medical professional. I am an activist…” I spoke with the voice of one who had witnessed the poor and sick who have no choice but to utilize dysfunctional, substandard PHCs, hustling for COVID-19 vaccines that were being hoarded by personnel.

The ovation that followed that presentation still rings in my ear if I listen closely. 

Back to you. So when preparing for that daunting presentation, practice! Commit yourself to understanding the subject matter, know your audience, dress the part, read the tone of the room and adjust your presentation accordingly, and finally, remember to breathe. You’ve got this!