The other day, I was at a workshop and one of the speakers was clearly nervous. He began his talk by telling the old story about the survey that asked people to name their greatest fear. Public speaking came in first, by a large margin. Death was fourth. So, if you believe the results of this survey, most people would rather die than stand up and give a talk. He was one of them. He urged us to be kind to him because he was nervous doing this talk.
He was suffering from what is known by a number of names: presentation anxiety, stage fright, the jitters. Whatever you call it presentation anxiety can be the death knell for an otherwise great talk. We all get nervous before a talk, but being nervous doesn’t have to mean you’ll do a bad talk. Presentation anxiety is a response to fear of doing a poor talk. It shows ups in a number of ways: blushing, shaking stuttering, preparing. At its worst, it will lead you to feel as if you’re not making sense, or worse yet, to lose the thread of your talk.
Presentation skills are one of the three communication skills that are part of my Common Sense Success System. I discuss them in detail in several of my books: Straight Talk for Success; Star Power; I Want YOU…To Succeed; Your Success GPS; 42 Rules to Jumpstart Your Professional Success.
I make speeches for a living, and I get nervous before every one of them. In fact, if I’m not a little nervous, I start to worry that I will be flat and deliver an unenthusiastic talk. Over the years, I’ve developed a few tricks that I use to calm my nerves before a big presentation and make them work for, not against me. Check them out…
Practice your talk out loud. This will help you get comfortable with your material and your delivery.
Think good thoughts. Imagine yourself succeeding beyond your wildest dreams. Imagine that you will get a standing ovation for your talk. This is what visualization is all about.
Get there early. In this way, you’ll be able to set up your computer and run through your slides one last time.
Greet people as they arrive; exchange a few words with them. This will help you make a good first impression with members of the audience. It will also help you get control of your nerves, because you’ll feel more comfortable speaking to a group of people you know rather than a group of strangers.
Take a deep breath before you begin. This will calm you, help center you and give you enough air to get through your opening.
Move. When you begin your presentation, move around. Use body movement to help release some of your nervous energy. Don’t get trapped behind the podium. It can inhibit you from releasing your energy.
Just chat with the audience. Think of your presentation as a conversation. There might be 10, or 25, or 100 people in your audience. But in terms of real communication, there are only two people in the room: you and a single listener.
Tell stories to illustrate your main points. People like listening to stories and they tend to remember points illustrated by stories.
Ask questions during your talk. This will help you build a dialogue and a participatory feeling. I try to make at least one quarter and as much as one half of my talk a discussion with the audience. In this way, it’s less of a speech and more of an expanded conversation with every person in the room.
Don’t worry if you make a mistake. To begin with, most people won’t realize that you made a mistake. Second, realize the audience is with you. They’ve all been there and know that presenting can be nerve wracking. Most people in the audience will be pulling for you to do a good job.
The common sense point here is simple. Successful people are dynamic communicators. Presentations are opportunities to shine – to demonstrate that you are a dynamic communicator. Stage fright is the biggest enemy of presentation success. Don’t let stage fright rob you of your opportunity to shine. One good presentation can make a career. Presentations are the best ways to get noticed and have your name at the top of the list when promotional opportunities come up. There are several ways to deal with presentation anxiety: be prepared, know your stuff cold; think of your talk as a conversation with the audience; tell stories to illustrate your points. However, there is one piece of advice that trumps all when it comes to delivering dynamic presentations: practice, practice, practice!
That’s my take on dealing with stage fright. What’s yours? Please take a few minutes to leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us. As always, thanks for reading.