The choke

It was everywhere. Images of Jordan Spieth choking. He ended the 12th hole with a quadruple bogey and saw his shot at winning the Masters slip away.

I could barely watch.

Have you ever choked?

I have. Maybe that’s why it was so hard for me to see Spieth in that place.

I’m not a pro golfer. But I choked big time on a big stage.

It was two years ago. As part of a business I started, I was asked to do my pitch in front of a team of potential investors – including Steve Case.

Yes, that Steve Case. The founder of AOL.

I’d done this pitch at least ten times in front of sizable crowds. This particular event had 200+ in the audience.

I rehearsed. I practiced in the mirror. (A necessary but painful step. Like trying on bathing suits.) I knew my presentation inside and out.

I applied every bit of coaching I’d ever given a client during presentation training.

I was the first of ten speakers. They introduced me. I was called to the stage. And, then, it happened.

My head started buzzing. My heart started pounding. I started sweating. And. Everyone. Was. Staring.

For a solid 10 seconds, I actually contemplated leaving the stage. I figured I could walk off, go right to the car and pretend the whole thing never happened.

Good plan, right?

It was only a three-minute pitch but it felt like 300 minutes of me stumbling through a presentation about a business I started.

After I finished the presentation, the judges had three minutes to ask questions. The worst part came when a judge asked, “So what is your product?”

Translation: You just spent three minutes pitching me your business and I have no idea what you’re talking about.

I couldn’t get off the stage fast enough.

For months, I replayed it in my head. I shied away from additional presentations. I even found myself not speaking up in meetings for fear it would happen again.

I kept thinking: “Kater, you’re a professional communicator, for cryin’ out loud!”

(Yes, like Bob Dole, I use third-person when talking to myself. Always Kater. Never Kate.)

I was convinced I was an extrovert who’d become an introvert and would forever be plagued with stage fright.

Slowly, though, I started to shed the skin of the choke.

I regained my footing and started speaking up again in meetings. I sought opportunities to present to groups.

Along the way, something unexpected happened: I gained a better understanding of my clients. Those who come to me for presentation or media training nervous that they, too, will choke on a big stage.

I’ll likely never get a chance to redeem myself in front of Steve Case. But, I now better relate to my clients. I know first-hand what it feels like to be in the limelight and not at my best.

Have you ever choked? Did it give you better perspective professionally or otherwise?

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