Ever done a presentation with a piece of spinach blacking out your tooth? I have. And worse – no one in the audience told me, or even pointed at their teeth to give me a hint. Worst part? I thought they were absolutely fascinated by what I was presenting. It was like Wimbledon in that room – heads moving to follow my every move. The more they stared, the more animated I became. Only after the delegates had left and I gave myself the victory smile in the ladies’ room, did I see the huge piece of vegetable. It wiggled every time I spoke.
When I teach Presentation Skills, people share with me their terror of making fools of themselves. They fear being unintentionally funny, or trying to be funny and getting no response.
I’ve done both. And it’s my capacity to laugh at myself that has helped me overcome the fear. Or, to realise that I didn’t die, even when I have wished the earth would swallow me whole.
Like the time early on in my career when I still power dressed for meetings. It was a warm summer day and we were sitting outside so I slipped my jacket off. After the meeting the very important (and rather sexy) client walked me down to the car park. It was quite a long walk and I continued my impressively professional conversation. Finally, reaching our cars, we shook hands. That’s when I spotted something white bouncing up and down on my shoulder. It was the 90’s. Shoulder pads were “in”. And my jacket was on inside out.
Or the time when I wore a slightly too long dress to a very formal speaking engagement and offered an unexpected introduction. I still remember the sound of the 1000 people in the audience catching their breath as I landed flat on my belly. My dress, the pointy shoes and the top step lacked some coordination. Thankfully my face was turned away so I didn’t need to see their faces. I was only sixteen and wanted to run away. It was really a moment of choice.
Sometimes participants share their stories with me. One young woman landed a plum position with a brilliant company. They invited her to a cocktail evening a week before she was about to start. She wasn’t used to drinking and it ended in the worst possible way. She vomited on her new CEO’s suede shoes.
There are more – like the time my favourite over-worn pants split in front of a group…
So, are you funny-haha, or funny-peculiar? All of us are funny. There is no doubt about that. But, to be laughed at, to be found “funny” when we are not intentionally seeking a laugh can be terrifying.
Here are hints for dealing with the fear of being laughed at:
Get over yourself
Statistically, 25% of people you meet will not like you. Hoping that everyone thinks you are great is an unrealistic expectation and creates anxiety. You can please some of the people some of the time.
Remember the worst
We often try to forget our embarrassing moments. I suggest you do the opposite. Remember them and use them as inoculation against you fears. You survived, didn’t you? Even the girl who threw up on the boss’ shoes survived to tell the tale.
Laugh at yourself
Success in business requires confidence. Are you confident enough to laugh at yourself? Emotional Intelligence implies that we face our fears. The difference between being laughed at and laughing with people is whether you are laughing or not!
I would love to hear your funny stories and embarrassing moments!