I can't stand doing presentations. Being the center of attention when I have to be normal and be myself is a prospect that terrifies me. I'm being literal here. In college, when I knew I had to do a presentation, I would suffer severe anxiety for about a week leading up to the actual presentation itself. When I start new classes and the instructor decides to play "the name game" so everyone can become familiar with everyone else, my heart goes into overdrive and I can't focus (by the way, the name game doesn't work...everyone is far too busy worrying about what they are going to say to pay attention to others). I'm quite phobic and yes I have tried many things to overcome it but nothing seems to work. For example, I took theatre classes for the express purpose of trying to overcome this phobia. But the problem was that in theatre you play parts. It's still quite nerve wracking but not as intense when I don't have to be myself.
So before I discovered that I could simply weasel out of presentations through use of a disability form (yes, it was that bad), I went to great pains to turn presentations into something much more fun and into something in which I could play a part. Perhaps the best example of this was in my Psychology of Gender course. We were all given different topics related to the psychology of gender that we had to research and present on in groups. My particular group was given sexual harassment, and you can't deny that it was ripe with fun possibilities.
My group consisted of my friend Brad and two people who I had not met before (Lisa and some dude whose name I cannot remember so let's call him Burt). The four of us sat together and brainstormed on how to present the information that we had yet to research (kind of backwards, I know). The group seemed content to simply stand up in front of the class and awkwardly regurgitate the information from our papers. However, that idea was horrifying to me...not to mention how utterly dull it was. So I decided I was going to turn the mundane into something amazing.
Enter The Dave Leno Show. The idea was simple. I was a late night talk show host who was busted via hidden camera hitting on one of my employees. I walked up Lisa, who was playing the employee, and I said to her "My face is leaving in five minutes...be on it." She then theatrically slapped me and stomped off while I did a comedic spin. Anyway, that fictitious sexual harassment led to Dave Leno having to air a show that tackled the issue of sexual harassment.
This expose episode of The Dave Leno Show would provide the class with all the information that we had to convey, but in a fun (and damn funny way).
The first scene, a monologue, involved a great number of stupid jokes interlaced between facts about sexual harassment. I remember it took an exorbitant number of takes because I kept screwing up. Why? Because I was being watched by a half dozen people and that pressure was enough for me to lose my focus. It's terrible, I know.
While we were recording the monologue, Brad, playing a Paul Shaffer sidekick character, sat at the piano in a theatre room in the college. Every once in a while, once I finished a joke, he would slam his hands on the piano keys randomly and pretended it was music. It was obnoxious noise and it was awesome. Sadly, a janitor bursted into the room and freaked out, demanding that we all leave the room because we were a disruption. The monologue was pretty much finished (leaving early meant Brad had to edit pieces together from different takes instead of one whole take) so it wasn't too awful we were kicked out.
The next scene was my first guess, Burt. Burt played an expert in sexual harassment and he came on the show to provide the details in a very mundane way. While Burt spewed forth facts, I was doing silly and improvisational things to try and make him laugh. When I asked a question, I would move in very close to him and stare at him while he tried to answer. While he was talking to the camera, I was flinging pens at it. I would slouch or sit backwards or get up and wander off while he was talking. And I give Burt a lot of credit. While it took a few takes (we had to restart if he broke his deadpan act), he did manage to eventually get through the scene without laughing. That was no easy feat.
There was one scene that I was dying to make, but was vetoed due to time constraints and due to the fact that my group members felt it deviated too far from the point of the presentation (to provide facts). They had a point, but it would have been so fun. Just picture it: A clip in which we were crew members aboard a Star Trek kind of ship. I would play the captain, of course. Captain Leno. One group member, probably Lisa, would have played an Amazon woman who sought to destroy me. The skit would involve a lot of rude jokes and pick up lines. I remember I had written a whole bit on how torpedoes were shaped like penises because they are aerodynamic and that's why men are superior to women (there was a part in the bit in which I talked about how if torpedoes were shaped like vaginas, they would just fill up with space dust and satellites and just sink to the planet below). It was offensive and it was hilarious. But true, there wasn't any fact being told, so it was best it was left out.
The aforementioned pick up lines were peppered throughout the presentation, which gave it a really fun and ironic feel. The components that we did use were effective and entertaining. Overall, The Dave Leno Show was a success. AND because it was filmed, we didn't have to stand up in front of the class and tell the information. However, I later learned that we had to remain standing after the presentation to answer questions. I knew the information but didn't want to be embarrassed, so I ended up scheduling a doctor's appointment during the presentation. Because my contribution to the group was obvious in the video and my group would be sure to tell the instructor that I put forth a lot of effort, I wasn't really needed there.
After the presentation, Brad got a hold of me and told me that the presentation was a huge success. I received some feedback slips (each student wrote constructive feedback on a piece of paper and submitted it to the instructor, who in turn gave them to us) and almost every slip mentioned how funny and informative the video was. There was a great deal of praise for Burt's stoic portrayal during my crazy antics and I was adored for my opening monologue. The few who had problems felt that the jokes were too crude. Who the fuck cares? They were funny!
We got 97% on the presentation, which was the highest mark in the class. I'm not sure where the other 3% went (probably some technical thing with the information) but I was satisfied with 97%.
There you have it folks. Be creative, even if it is because you're scared. Creative makes things fun to do and fun for others to experience. Just don't steal my vagina-torpedo joke...that's all mine!