In my stomach.
Had to give a 40-minute presentation to a large room full of government officials (including a couple of Ministers) and high-end investors. Rehearsed it the night before in my room and it was okay, but with some problems... some clunky transitions, too many "uhhs" and "ums", that sort of thing. But not bad. More like, run through it again in the morning and it will be fine.
Here's the thing: I don't get nervous in front of crowds. I like doing presentations. I present (I am told) as relaxed and affable, but in control of my facts. I radiate (again, I am told) breezy confidence. And I like talking to groups. My major vices are (as you'd expect) a tendency to ramble and to run overtime, and years of practice and a modest level of self-discipline have mostly corrected these. I'm not afraid of Ministers, and I'm certainly not afraid of PowerPoint. I give good soundtrack. And I don't worry about it.
But come the morning, I found myself inexplicably twitchy. I felt unprepared, and not... competent. And about ten minutes before the presentation, I caught myself pacing in the hall muttering to myself, and I suddenly realized the hell, I am really nervous here.
And realizing that I was nervous -- for the first time since, ohh, my first jury trial? Which was in 1992 or thereabouts? -- abruptly made me much more nervous, to the point of breathing heavily and sweating.
As it turned out, it was okay. As soon as I stood up and started talking -- literally, in the first few seconds -- the anxiety dropped away. I started packing back and forth, holding the mike with one hand while waving and making points with the other, and my rehearsed soundtrack fell right into place, clickety click. I wasn't nervous at all, and I finished exactly on time. Later on, I had to defend my presentation against some aggressive questioning, and that was fine too. No heavy breathing. Bam, bam, speak, answer, I didn't give any of it a moment's thought. It was fine.
But still... what the hell was that bad bit before?
I really have no idea. Some tentative guesses:
- I was just out of practice. (Unlikely -- I have done a couple of these in the last couple of years.)
- It's some strange by-product of the aging process. (Unlikely but possible. Strange things lie in wait as you move through your forties.)
- The stakes were high, not because of the Ministers and such, but because I'm freelance these days. (Possible. Botch a presentation when you're employed, and maybe you get dinged on your next assessment, but you're unlikely to get fired on the spot. Botch one when you're freelance, and you don't get invited back again.
- This protracted period without regular full-time employment is inflicting subtle, erosive damage upon my confidence and aplomb. (Possible, but I don't like this idea much.)
Anyway. I'm back in Dakar, Senegal, but only for a few days. Basically I came back to prepare and deliver this presentation, and now that it's done, I do a debrief the next morning, pack, and go. Hotel office, conference, no time for seeing much of the country. But that's how these things go sometimes.
On the plus side, I did this with a colleague from the US, and he -- bless his heart -- agreed to mule over a couple of packages from Amazon. So I'll be carrying home a lot of childrens' chewable vitamins, some Shaun the Sheep videos, the fourth and last season of Samurai Jack, and volume 2 of Walt Simonson's classic run on Marvel's Thor comic book. (Alan and David are loving them some Thor.)
And as for the anxiety... well, see if it happens again, I guess.