It was like having a technology night-terror.
You know, the one where you are standing up to speak in front of a hundred people with this awesome presentation and the entire assortment of electronic components decide, at that moment, not to work- at all?
Pure Professional Embarrassment.
Except this wasn’t a bad dream.
This was my live performance last Thursday at the NCACPA’s Professional Women’s Conference.
Despite our best preparation, and hours of testing the embedded links, this particular Power Point Slide Show setup and persnickety clicker were not playing nice with this poor speaker.
I started my presentation. And had to stop. I started my presentation again, and had to pause. The poor IT supporters and amazing conference organizers workers did their best to keep the show going amongst some pretty pregnant pauses.
So what’s an Empowered Woman to do when living through an embarrassing night terror for real?
Here are three ways to get through an embarrassing moment when all eyes are on you.
1. Find the humor. Seriously. I had to laugh. This was my worst fear realized as technology and I go way back with a history of an abusive relationship. So rather than panic and make all kinds of excuses in front of this audience, I made fun of the fact that here I was to talk with them about how perfectionistic habits can limit them from living their best lives and I was giving a less than perfect presentation.
Karma at it’s finest.
Because I was in a room full of female CPA’s, I joked that maybe my presentation was supposed be in Excel. They laughed, I relaxed a little, and it gave my helpers some time to figure out a work around and fix the clicker. Now let me be perfectly honest, even though I was laughing and joking I DID NOT FEEL like it was funny at the moment. I was sweating deep inside my savvy suit and looking for the nearest EXIT sign. But just the act of making fun of myself, and hearing the laughter in the crowd, helped me to turn down the flight or fight emotions and focus on what I could control- my reaction.
2. Make a Connection with Those Around You. Whether you are speaking in front of an audience, or are on a plane with a toddler having a meltdown, making eye connection with someone close to you and sharing the moment together can help you to feel less alone. The women in the front row became my empathy squad as I made eye contact with them personally during the pauses with comments like “well, it’s going to be one of those days.” or “at least I’m not standing here in my underwear.”
Their engagement gave me hope that others were rooting for me to survive the hiccups and were giving me grace for the less than perfect moment that was happening. They were the ones that volunteered first to offer insight later in the program when I asked for volunteers to share. By creating a communal feeling with those around me, I was able to settle into my speech with the normal relaxation I feel in front of an audience instead of thinking that everyone was judging me.
3. Reflect on What Went Well Afterwards. This is a bit like having a gratitude mindset. Human nature dictates that we imprint emotional memories into our brains that are scary, shameful, and uncertain. Biology will hardwire all of the negative things that occurred during that presentation vs. all of the positive. By purposely making myself list out everything that I could remember that went well ( the engagement in the break out sessions, their Aha moments that they were willing to share, their smiles and laughter during my feel good parts of the presentation) vs…I had technology issues and my embedded videos were a pain to access helped me to really re-frame the situation in my mind.
I know, logically, that the situation was way worse to me because I was feeling responsible for giving them less than a flawless performance. To them, it was just an IT glitch that was a minor annoyance and a break in the rhythm of the performance. To me (in my mind) it was a cataclysmic disaster.
By taking a step back afterwards and finding what went right, I was able to put this thought into perspective.
Really, it was not that big of deal.
At the end of the presentation, several women came up to say they really enjoyed my presentation. One woman, in particular, shared with me that at the beginning of the presentation she really didn’t think she had ever experienced imposter syndrome feelings. But, she shared, she had just completed her PhD and couldn’t shake the feeling that she was not deserving of such an accolade.
Now, she said, she understood and had a name for these feelings. And she felt less alone.
Turns out this was a pretty good night terror, after all.
She is on a mission to help women lead their very best professional and personal lives by leaning in and leading with confidence.
Someday- she hopes to tame the technology that messes with her life on a daily basis.