The writer’s prompt said “What do you find more unbearable: watching a video of yourself, or listening to a recording of your voice.” Unbearable is such a strong word, one that I avoid, but the prompt got me thinking of that time I was videotaped giving a presentation.
It’s wasn’t the only time I’ve been on video, but it was the first. First as in “first time on video,” and first as in “first time ever giving a presentation.” You might expect that this isn’t a good combination, and you would be right.
I actually felt it went well, and was told by others that they agreed. But when I saw the videotape (and yes, it was on tape, not digital) I groaned. To me it was monotone. I was stiff and hidden behind a lectern. Worse, my voice is a lot deeper than you might otherwise have guessed. I also “ummmed” way more than I should have; not loud and drawn out, but enough to make me cringe when I watched. I wasn’t happy even though I was given high marks for my speaking skills.
Since that day many years ago I’ve given around 120 presentations. I still “umm” more than I would like, but my voice is much more dynamic and my body language is much more animated. I still get nervous whenever I speak, but don’t actively avoid opportunities when they arise. I’ve learned to stand away from the lectern. I’ve learned not to fill my slides (yes, I still call them slides) with bullet point after bullet point. I no longer think my talks are boring. For a self-critical presenter, that’s a huge acknowledgement.
As I’ve shifted from my science career to my author career, so too have the topics of my talks. No longer the acronym-filled REACH and TSCA presentations, I now talk about Tesla and Edison. I recently did my first speaking gig on Abraham Lincoln. C-Span was supposed to be there to digitally tape but cancelled at the last minute (something about Joe Biden announcing he would not run for president). The good news is I’ve gone from trepidation at the prospect of my first videotaped talk to disappointment that the taping wasn’t going to happen.
That’s progress in anyone’s book.
David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, due out in late July 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.