Throughout my communications career, I’ve found myself in front of rooms full of people dozens – if not hundreds – of times. Sometimes I’m presenting a plan or pitching an idea, more often I’m facilitating a training session. Also, as an oldest child, I’m usually the go-to emcee/tribute-deliverer in the family. I’m a competent and reasonably engaging presenter, but if I’m honest, I fall far short of extraordinary or amazing. That said, I strive constantly to improve. In addition to seeking out participant feedback, I am an eager student of those who make it look easy. When I watch or listen to a truly compelling presenter, I am in awe of their gift for getting their ideas across while earning their audience’s attention, taking them on a journey where they feel motivated and inspired.
While it’s hard to immediately win over a crowd, as a speaker it’s really easy to lose the room within the first few minutes. And haven’t we all sat through dreadful presentations – where the presenter mumbled, read from notes, never made eye contact, swayed back and forth, relied on illegible graphs and delivered too much content? Cue glossy eyes, not-so-subtle texting and counting floor tiles.
Fear of public speaking is common. There’s even a word to describe speaking anxiety – glossophobia. We’re hard-wired to avoid pain – the possibility of embarrassing ourselves by forgetting something or not being funny or interesting. Even though I’ve done a fair bit of public speaking, I still get the jitters. I’ve never forgotten an exchange with a high school teacher I had the privilege of working with when I was a student teacher. He was in his mid-fifties; I was 22. My stomach was in knots in anticipation of facing a roomful of grade 12 English literature students; I asked him if he still got nervous. He replied, “Absolutely. I get a shot of adrenalin before every class. The day I don’t is the day I’ll know it’s time to retire because it means I don’t care any more.”
Most of us – in work or social situations – will be called upon to present at some point. For advice, I approached three colleagues who are spectacular presenters and asked each to provide their top three killer tips...
HERE’S NINE TO THRIVE
Bill Baker, Principal, BB&Co Strategic Storytelling
- Know your opening, cold. It’s important that you rehearse your presentation before you have to give it, and by rehearse, I mean rehearse it out loud, not mistaking rereading it on the plane as rehearsal. This is especially true for your opening (those first 3 to 4 minutes of your presentation) because a lot of us get nervous when we present so we have to slip into autopilot for a bit. Make sure that autopilot is well-programmed. Be able to do your opening in your sleep and feel 150% comfortable with it. When your opening goes well, you’ll start to relax and ease into the rest of your presentation.
- Make sure you’re the main communicator, not your slides. PowerPoint (and Keynote and other presentation software) are powerful tools that greatly enhance our ability to give great presentations. But your slides should enhance and support what you – the presenter – is communicating, not doing the communicating for you. Use fewer words that mean more and punctuate what’s coming out of your mouth. Have a great, arresting image up on a slide doing the same. And for the love of God, do something different than the standard title/bullet point format.
- Work the whole room. Don’t focus all of your attention and energy on the poor schmuck who happens to be sitting in the centre of the room. Instead, sweep the room with your eyes and your body language, making eye contact with lots of different people in the audience. This will make them feel more connected to you and more engaged as a result.
Janice Jacob, Principal, Calculated Presentations
- Be yourself. No, you can’t present like Steve Jobs. You’re you! You have your nuances and tics that make you special. It’s those human qualities that make presenters engaging. The most confident presenters manage their anxiety by understanding that they are “good enough”. You know the line you forgot that you are beating yourself up over? No one noticed except you. Reframe your thoughts and be kind to your imperfect self.
- Practice, practice, practice. But only the bits you’re stumbling on. A trap that many presenters fall into is over-practicing. They end up delivering their presentation like a well-polished drone. Save yourself lots of time by not practicing your entire presentation over and over again. Do a few complete run-throughs and then only practice the parts you don’t know well. Then the night before do a complete run-through and you’ll be good to go.
- Breathe and feel your feet on the ground. Many of us have had the experience of going blank. Even if it hasn’t happened it is something as presenters we fear. I call it monkey brain. Why does it happen? Lack of oxygen and lack of concentration. The remedy is twofold. A few minutes before you give your presentation, take three or four deep breaths. Make your lower belly expand and contract. You’ll notice how much more relaxed you’ll feel. As for the monkey brain, bring yourself back to the present by feeling your feet on the floor. Feel the entire soles of your feet connect. This will stop your wandering mind from over-thinking things like, “Will I forget my ending” or “Why is that woman in the front row scowling at me?” If you breathe deeply and stay present you won’t experience the wandering monkey brain effect.
Dene Rossouw, Principal & Motivational Coach at Possibil.com
- Be clear. When I run my Persuasive Presenter programs, I take the group through a quick recipe of how to make PASTA. When you cook real pasta in the kitchen, it’s a clear, stepped process that takes about 10-15 minutes. It’s the same with the PASTA recipe for presentations. You need to be absolutely clear about your Purpose, who the Audience is, what key Story to include that will provide the backdrop for your presentation, what Topics should be included and then Arrange the flow of your argument. When you are clear about the five ingredients that make up the PASTA recipe, you’ll shorten your preparation time and boost your confidence.
- Write your conclusion first. Resist the temptation to start writing the opening of your presentation. Build out the conclusion first. Consider what you want the audience to think, feel and do at the end of your presentation. Get clear about your call to action. Then prepare your opening and finally write the body. This preparation sequence will keep you focused and reduce your preparation time.
- Rent an audience. Don’t practice in front of a mirror. Never rehearse your presentation word for word. It’s far better to speak to your key points in a natural, conversational and unscripted way. The best way to do this is to ‘rent an audience’. Invest in a few refreshments and invite some friends and colleagues to listen to your presentation. Before you start, provide them with a few evaluation criteria so that they can provide you with useful feedback. If you make adjustments based on the feedback and rent an audience more than once, you will be amazed at how your confidence and clarity improves and your anxiety diminishes.
Please note that all three presentation pros – Bill, Janice and Dene – are available for training, coaching and storytelling help. Their names (in red) hyperlink to their websites, where you’ll find the “skinny” on them, their services and their contact info.
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