Every informal educator will inevitably go through challenges in their personal and work life which can damage their performance during presentations. This external interference can make us lose mental focus and struggle to express our emotions properly. There are, however, several strategies we can use to minimise the impact of these distractions.
“A professional is a person who can do his best at a time when he doesn’t particularly feel like it.”
Alistair Cooke (broadcaster)
As professional educators, we’d like to think we’re able to compartmentalise our home and work lives, but this isn’t always possible. The range of difficulties that we can face at any time is immense (e.g. concerns about our physical or mental health; relationship problems; issues with children or parents we care for; financial worries; grief). Each of these situations can affect us as individuals in different ways.
On top of these personal concerns, we may have pressures created by parts of our work which are unrelated to giving presentations (e.g. worries about our job security; being discriminated against; workload pressures; not winning an internal promotion; being bullied by peers or managers; lack of support). And sometimes, we are just having a bad day because of the build up of a series of small frustrations.
Although these kinds of stresses are usually temporary in nature, they can affect your delivery in the spotlight in two main ways. Firstly, the personal and emotional aspects of performing in public make us vulnerable — when we are feeling under pressure, there is a greater risk that some of these negative emotions may leak into our behaviour onstage. Suppressing these powerful feelings in front of audiences comes at an emotional cost. Also, when our mood is lowered, it naturally becomes harder to express those positive emotions that we need to display when interacting and reacting to our content.
Secondly, these problems can distract us from focusing on our audiences and the action onstage as we normally would. Our minds can wander to external thoughts, as we begin to “go through the motions”. Audiences, however, are able to detect when their presenters aren’t fully with them.
Treatment plan for coping with distractions
These suggestions are offered as general strategies to consider — different educators will find certain techniques more effective than others. However, if a situation is causing persistent stress, it is unwise to ignore it or try to mask it. Adopting a mentality that “the show must go on” at all costs can lead to burn-out (3.7) and longer-term, serious consequences for our well-being.
- be kind to yourself — accept that you may not perform at your best during this difficult time. You have no reason to feel guilty for reacting as you have to the circumstances you face. Unfortunately, guilt is a common complication for educators when they feel they cannot help their learners as much as they want.
- conserve your energy and prioritise — consider how you can reduce your workload and focus your limited energy resources on the most important public-facing aspects of your role. Self-care is especially important during these challenges.
- block external thoughts — shutting off distractions as soon as they appear can be difficult, but experienced presenters can learn to compartmentalise like this with practice.
- ground yourself in the moment — use the improv mindsets, principles and techniques discussed in Tool 2 to stay present. We are fortunate, at least, that presenting is so complex and all-consuming, we can often lose ourselves in this activity for short periods.
- focus on connecting with the audience — make a conscious effort to use even more of the interaction techniques in Tools 4-7 than you would normally. Let their energy infect you. Concentrate on developing strong connections with the individuals in front of you.
- recreate your positive emotions — using acting techniques (3.5), it’s possible to model enthusiasm even though your heart may be breaking. This takes much more effort, though, than overcoming your boredom with a regular presentation and it can be hard to sustain.
- alert your manager — even if you don’t want to go into the details, letting your manager know that you are having a hard time can be one of the best ways of getting short-term assistance.
- seek support from trusted colleagues — sharing worries with your friends can be helpful, but be careful not to overshare, when you are feeling vulnerable, with those who are not close to you.
- consider taking time off — sometimes the situation may demand that you step away from presenting, or your job, for a short time.