Preparing to give a presentation frightens the living daylights out of most people and often causes them to perform well below par. But preparing to run a marathon scares most people too - and yet those who take up that challenge usually do well on the day.
It's that word 'preparing' which is key to the presenter's dilemma.
Everyone understands that to run a marathon, muscles which are going to take an unusual pounding have to be trained. They are also aware that mental stamina has to be built up well before arriving at the starting line.
So, on wet days or dry days, hot days or cold: when feeling down in the dumps or on top form, those hoping to complete the marathon course will be out there checking every inch of roadway, sussing out pitfalls and helpful contours to ensure they will be secure on the day of performance.
If training and rehearsal activate the muscles, remove the fear and free up the brain for running a marathon, surely the way to unlock the throat, loosen the tongue, open the jaw, enliven the eyes, relax the stance and makes us sound, look and feel good when standing speaking for a long time is also through training and rehearsal.
Why then when it comes to ideas we want to run with and bring home to an audience during a presentation, do we think we can conjure the necessary performance stamina out of thin air on the day? Its the word 'audience' which holds the key to this dilemma.
Marathon runners train to get themselves safely through an ordeal. There will be people all around them during their performance but they don't have to account for those people. Presenters, on the other hand, must train in order to take other people along with them: persuading and informing as they go.
While senior executives have support staff who work out a presentation game-plan, write the scripts, direct the rehearsals and evaluate the performances, we ordinary guys must enlist help for ourselves.
So discuss your material with colleagues. Get family and friends to help you plan your timing, go through your slides and check your audibility. Positively welcome comments about mannerisms and demeanour. Strut your stuff as you strut along the street. (So many people talk loudly into invisible cell phones these days that no one will think that what you're doing is unusual.)
Whatever you do, just get on and rehearse, but while you do, keep the welfare of an imaginary audience which would rather be anywhere than sitting in front of you - uppermost in your mind. Cajole their interest so they want to keep up with you, share your ideas by talking to them as you'd like to be talked to. Plan to add value to their day,
When finally you and a real audience make it to the start line and you follow the strategy you've rehearsed, you'll discover that there isn't any time for you to feel afraid
You'll also discover that the buzz you get at the end off a group of people who have been really engaged by a presentation makes the high a marathon runner feels on crossing the finishing line pale into insignificance.