Stage Fright: A Ten-Step Program Giving a great presentation is easy. All you need is the right mix of fear, ego, procrastination, fear, and liquor. Did we mention fear?
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I am standing in a small backstage area at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. On the other side of a wall of flats and screens are approximately 500 people--distributors and their wives, key company staff, virtually every member of ultra-senior management. In five, three...I will have to go out there and give a presentation, no matter what. Nothing short of a major earthquake will stop this. I picture the earth opening up beneath our feet, the hot magma pouring from the hole in the ballroom floor, our distributors running for the exits, hair on fire, as a chunk of the West Coast meanders out toward Hawaii.

I've never had that kind of luck. I'm going to have to go on.

How did I get myself into this thing? Why don't I know the effect this hellish event is going to have on me--not for an hour, a day, even a week, no, for months--as the anticipation builds, turns to dread, from dread to anxiety, from anxiety to fear, and then to what I feel right now: pure, electric-blue terror? God, please let it be over.

Step one: It is last January. I get a call from Schuster. "We want you to talk at the distributors meeting in May," he says. I am pleased. Fool! Save yourself! "Great, man," I hear myself say. "I'm flattered. I'll try to make it good." Good? It'll be terrific!

Management device: Self-delusion. Ego. Lunatic optimism.

Step two: It is late March. A memo comes from Schuster to all presenters at the May extravaganza. "Please give me an outline of your remarks as soon as you can. I want to make sure we're all coordinated and on point." It takes me a minute to remember what he's talking about. Oh, yeah. I'm speaking in May. A small, surgically honed corkscrew of fright pierces the point immediately below my sternum. I ball up the memo and file it with the remainders of my muffin. An outline indeed!

Management device: Amnesia. The deep cloud of unknowing.

Step three: April. I wake up 20 minutes early one morning. I never do that. I'm nervous about something. What? I go to the shower and stand with my eyes closed, water pouring down on my head. Oh, yes. Slides. I need to do my slides for the May presentation. They're due this week. I don't have a single, solitary notion of what I want to say to these people. Can I get out of it? Maybe. But I've always talked to them before. If I don't show up this year, or attend the meeting without speaking, will it indicate some polish is off the apple of my corporate self? Sure. Got to do the slides, then. Do them today. And yet, I do not. Not that day. Not the next.

Management device: Killer procrastination.

Step four: May 1. I get a call from Garfield, who does the graphics. "We need at least a clue as to what you're doing," she tells me. I know she's right. Got to have a plan. "I'll give you slides by Monday," I tell her. I walk around for the rest of the week with a gaping wound in my peace of mind.

Management device: Desperate cogitation.

Step five: Sunday, midnight. I've got it! I should get it down right away! But I don't. I go to sleep after making a couple of notes. Monday morning, with Garfield waiting down the hall, I sit with a large deck of virgin paper behind closed doors. Quiet on the set! In half an hour, I have 30 slides. They're great! I love them! Thank God that's over!

Management device: Work.

Step six: May 15. Ten days The real fear starts here, the one that roosts like a pinworm within me, munching, pausing momentarily to let other, more rational processes take place, then once again bending to its work. Before me on my desk are laser printouts of my slides, which are not really slides at all but computer graphics that will soon fill a wall the size of a stadium scoreboard, looming above me as I deliver my ... remarks. But what are my remarks? I must come up with some and rehearse the hell out of them! Oh, well. Time to go home. Where did the day go?

Management device: Drinking at night.

Step seven: Dear God, it hurts. It's Tuesday. I'm on a plane to L.A. On Thursday I will be in front of 500 trusting individuals who expect me to have...remarks. Hey! I have six hours on the plane now! Why don't I use them? I watch a personal video instead and eat three portions of hot nuts. Then I sleep. When I get to the hotel, I am exhausted. Even though it is in the middle of the day, I get under the big, thick comforter, crank up the air conditioning to arctic levels, and go to sleep. That night I eat dinner with a couple of pals, beg off right afterward, and fall asleep again.

Management device: Narcolepsy.

Step eight: I wake at 10 a.m. My run-through for tomorrow's dog-and-pony show is at 1 p.m. I order a good breakfast from room service. While I wait the 65 minutes for it to arrive, I watch the end of The Naked Prey with Cornell Wilde on TBS. Just look at the guy, running around on the African veldt in a remarkably effective loincloth. He kills a snake and eats it raw. Ugh. I wish I was him. Breakfast arrives. I eat it, wheel the portable table out of the room, go to the desk provided to me because I'm a hard-working executive, sit down with my charts, and in a fever of terror at the possibility that there is nothing, nothing inside, I slam through some notes on each page. Barely an hour later, I look up and find myself done. Why didn't I do this before? What a jerk I am! I feel great, for a while. Everything will be great!

My rehearsal goes okay. At 3 p.m, about 24 hours before I am scheduled to appear, pow! Incapacitating weakness. Panic. The desire for a sudden, painless death that might confer some grandeur on my otherwise tawdry existence.

Management device: Surrender.

Step nine: I can't breathe. I can't think. I will stink. I am sure of it now. Every hormone in my body screams, "Run! Run!" But I do not. I take several deep breaths. I feel like fainting. Never again! They are calling my name. May God strike me dead right here! I mean it. No? Okay, then. My feet are walking. I'm on!

Management device: Freak out.

Step ten: It's over! It was fab! I loved it! The moment I hit the stage, I felt like a million bucks! I did all this work for 15 minutes of fun? Lemme at 'em! Lemme at 'em!

Management device: Aw, the hell with management! When can we do this again? Now?

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real fortune 500 company he'd rather not name.