Thursday, December 29, 2011

Terrified

Over my career I’ve given exactly 295 public presentations, to audiences as small as a table full and up to many thousands. Audience members have said countless times that they really enjoy my speeches. Conference organizers always invite me back, and my feedback scores are always amongst the highest. These are accomplishments I’m proud of and a level of success only achieved with the help of a lot of dedicated people. You might think that after all this experience that I’m extremely comfortable on stage. The reality is that you’d be wrong, very wrong. What most don’t know is that each and every time I’ve present, to this day, I suffer from extreme anxiety, commonly known as stage fright. In my case, terrified would be a more accurate description.

I’ve been known to physically shake, have shortness of breath and a strained voice, speak far too quickly, be statuesque on stage almost like I’m hiding, and feel just overall completely stressed out. Early on I decided that no matter how terrified I was, my message needed to get out there, and it was more important than letting fear stop me. I think my #1 skill as a public speaker is hiding my fear, my terror. My theory was the more experience I gained the faster I’d overcome it. In the meantime in order to cope I developed a pre-presentation ritual.

I’d prepare heavily for each event, pour over the content in every slide, and seek candid feedback from those I trusted. I’d also commonly ask event organizer for details on audience demographics to specifically tailor my comments. I’d then practice ahead of time for small private groups in order to get the timing and flow down. If something or all of it sucked, I’d throw it out. With the assistance of my wife, I’d even get a plan down for precisely what I was going to wear during at show day. Nothing was left to chance. Finally, I block out an hour before each presentation to check out the stage, be alone with time to center, prepare and calm myself down, and of course continue tweaking slides. Being prepared helped take the edge off my anxiety a lot.

The problem was, or is, that no matter how many times I presented, the anxiety, the fear, and terror never really lessened. That is until this last year. Something changed, but what!? Had I finally overcome? I’m not an introspective person so it wasn’t until very recently that I think I figured it out. In 2011 my public presentations weren’t pushing the envelope as much as in years past. The content was good to be sure, but it also focused on “safe” business level subjects and incrementally advancing work from previous years. In short, I really wasn’t putting myself out there as far as I’m used to. In my case, the feeling or fear and terror arises when pushing forth an idea or a concept and unsure if people will think its uncompelling or totally idiotic. A chance you take.

That’s about when I got a call from the TED offering a speaking slot in TEDxMaui. We got to talking about my work and discussing an idea worth spreading. It didn’t take long. Then all of a sudden I’m thrust right back into fear and terror mode, but now that I understand it, the feeling is almost comforting. It signals that I have an opportunity to take things in my industry, in our industry, to a new level --- or of course drive right off a cliff. Either way it’ll be a good show!  :)

16 comments:

Tin Zaw said...

Without such terror, you wouldn't be as good speaker as you are today. Thank you for all your contributions.

Sandbags said...

I found rehearsing the first 60 secs of talk until it was fully automatic helped. That way I could start the talk yet have time to watch and adjust to the audience while the auto bit just flowed

Dan said...

If it makes you feel better... You can imagine me naked. :)

Jeremiah Grossman said...

@Tin: thank you so much! 2012 will be a BIG year for me personally and WhiteHat. Going to find that edge, pay no attention, and go way past it. I can't wait! :)

@Sandbags: I do very much the same thing and it does help tremendously. Probably the only reason I'm able to drag myself onstage is feeling completely automatic.

@Dan: Maybe that would explain me trying to hide behind the podium. ;)

calvin said...

i wish you the best of luck in your upcoming endeavor!

i too am oft plagued by anxiety; my goal for next year is to live fearlessly, i hope you're able to conquer it too.

Jeremiah Grossman said...

@Calvin: best of luck in the coming year to you as well!

Allen Baranov said...

I find that my best talks are the ones where I feel least comfortable and where the topics are not very well defined. I prepare more thouroughly and I think that the excitement of talking (the nerves) actually makes the audience more interested.

Having seen your talks live and recorded, you are one of the most interesting speakers. The strange thing (having read this post) is how comfortable and relaxed you appear on stage.

Jeremiah Grossman said...

@Allen: much appreciated. only way I'm able to get to a tolerable level of comfort on stage in with an extraordinary amount of preparation.

Still, we all keep pushing that envelope and break away comfort zone.

Unknown said...

Looking forward to meeting you and hearing your talk at TEDxMaui. Maybe when you are on-island you can stop by at Maui Makers our island maker/hackerspace and talk story with us.

Jeremiah Grossman said...

@Unknown: Sounds good! please introduce yourself at the event.

dbavedb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron Bryson said...

Congratulations! I hope to catch your TED talk on a podcast. Share a link to your talk when you get one! I'm sure many of us would like to see it.

Jeremiah Grossman said...

@Aaron: Thanks! I definitely will.

Jeremiah Grossman said...

@dbavedb: thank you. just writing how I feel it. apparently others experience much of the same. TED is indeed a big opportunity. the title of the presentation will be "Hack Yourself First," and while it probably won't be earth shattering from those that live infosec on a daily basis, I'm hoping it will be for the masses. this week I'll be doing a whole lot of practicing!

Aimee Paradise said...

Thank you for talk on security at #TedxMaui2012 today. Love the passion you have for technology. ~Aloha

Chris M said...

Probably worth linking to the video :D http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-H2G2tlqSSM&list=PL9FF3146D30EA5372&feature=player_embedded