First there is an inner shaking, then the neck and the face start to heat up… rising from the bottom of your toes to the top of your head. Then the voice starts to go weaker and weaker and finally, you’re grasping for breath, you think to yourself: OH MY GOSH.. this is ABSOLUTELY horrifying!!! What has happened to me?

Our body has a natural reaction to stress and to fear, fight or flight. But what do you do when you really NEED to face a terrifying situation but your body doesn’t want to? For instance, public speaking, giving a report at a company, or in my case, pitching a TV show to a TV network?

This week, I’ve been lucky enough to attend a terrific conference called Real Screen. It’s a yearly conference in Washington DC where most of the Directors of Developments of the national TV networks gather to brainstorm, meet the producers and explain what their network is seeking in terms of programming. At the conference, hundreds of TV and film producers from around the world gather, to pitch their TV concepts and seek deals with the networks.

Before I got here, I was completely convinced that the show we’re creating is the next big thing. It’s got heart, its got style and it’s extremely current. Since I’ve been at the conference, I’ve seen that everyone feels the same about their own show and their job is also to convince the same group of people to buy their idea.

In other words, it’s stressful.

Yesterday, I pitched my show concept formally to MSNBC. They’re now accepting new programming and I thought that my show might have an angle that they’d like. The room is set up like speed dating. You get a number if you pre registered, or you hang around to see if there might be room at the end. I was the one getting in under the gun at the end because I was a late register to the conference. They call you over to the mini table where the 3 Development people sit and wait for you to make your pitch. I started off strong by introducing myself, and then I got to work explaining the concept of my show. I could hear my voice be enthusiastic and excited about the show, and then I felt the heat rising. It swarmed over me like a blanket or someone drowning in a pool of water. There was no controlling it. My face went red and my voice went south.

It was horrible.

Luckily, I finished the pitch, provided the information and then got up to run to the next seminar. I was heading to the speech that was to be given by one of the producers I just met from MSNBC so we went to the seminar together. By that time, the energy of the hundreds of people in the hall helped me retrieve my voice and I chatted happily with him all the way to the next session and we had a terrific exchange for about the same amount of time that I sunk in front of him moments before. Within that time, I learned that my show would not be a decent fit for them, as much as he liked the concept.

It was a great experience for me to go through because next time, I’ll be prepared. Its funny how I could stand before a 1000 people and speak, yet speaking to 3 people in the corner of a room at a table terrified me. The difference was in the preparation. I hadn’t prepared to “speed pitch” and did it on the fly.

It gave me a huge appreciation for my clients who go through similar horrifying episodes in business when they have to speak in front of a meeting or group. It literally makes people sick to even think about public speaking so they derail their career by refusing to do it. As a coach, I can teach anyone to get over the nerves, but the best word of advice that I can give is to prepare, prepare, prepare. Do it in front of a mirror and do it over and over until it’s completely natural. Tape yourself giving your message and do it over and over until it sounds lively and fun.

Speed pitching was torture, and although I’m not doing it again today, I’d definitely do it again and sign up early, prepare and then pitch. In the meantime however, I’ve been able to casually meet other networks heads such from Oxygen, WE, TLC, National Geographic, the BBC, Smithsonian Network, among others. In the quick casual conversations, I came across likeable, passionate and had a story to tell that was intriguing. Most liked my concept but it still hasn’t found a home.

Getting over nerves isn’t ever going to happen fully because they’re there to protect and guide us. But learning to anticipate them and prepare for them can hold them at bay.

There’s no doubt that it’s better to prepare and be articulate than wing it and crash and burn. It’s also a heck of a lot more fun.