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Eight Tips for Taming Terror: Transforming Presentation Nerves Into Confident Communication
Developing your ability and confidence to speak in public is probably one of the most valuable things you can do both for your self-esteem and your career. Unfortunately many people avoid presenting due to the fear associated with standing up in front of groups of people, be they colleagues or clients.
If you suffer from stage fright or a fear of public speaking, you’ll find this article extremely helpful. In it, Gavin Meikle at Inter-Activ Presenting and Influencing (www.inter-activ.co.uk) and www.toastmasters.org looks at eight proven techniques for turning reluctant presenters like you into confident communicators. Know your enemy – what is it that you are afraid of? When I work with new clients who suffer from presentation nerves and stage fright, I start by asking them to consider what it is that they fear. Most have never stopped to consider this simple but important question.
When asked, the most common answers are:
• Fear of forgetting what they were going to say - drying/blanking
• Embarrassment - Making a fool of themselves in front of colleagues or clients
• Fear Saying the wrong thing - making a mistake
• Fear of people looking at me and judging me
Can you identify with any or all of these? Now that we know who or rather what is our enemy, the next step is to consider some additional questions.
• How likely is it that any or all of these things will happen?
• What is the worst consequence of these things happening?
• What are the consequences of giving in to these fears?
Most of what we fear will never happen, and even if it does, the consequences are rarely, if ever, as bad as we think they will be. Every speaker I know, including myself, has dried or said the wrong thing at some point, and we have all lived to tell the tale, and so will you. Perfection is not connection – mistakes can make you more credible.
Have you ever stopped to consider the possibility that being a “perfect presenter” might undermine your ability to persuade or influence your audience? I once attended a workshop where one of the presenters give a presentation that was, in most people’s estimation, word and gesture perfect. The funny thing was that despite this, the audience agreed that they could not warm to the presenter. During the coffee break, we debated the cause of this “disconnect” between speaker and audience. Our conclusion was that the speaker was “too perfect”.
Human beings are rarely perfect and, when a presenter makes a mistake, we often empathise with them, because we have done the same. To be an effective presenter you do not need to be perfect, you just need to be the best version of yourself that you can be on the day.
Be prepared – mistakes are less likely to happen The best way to reduce the risk of thinks going wrong during your presentation is by planning what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Sadly too many speakers make the excuse that they do not have time to prepare correctly and in so doing they set themselves up for failure. The more important your presentation, the more important it is, that you set aside time to plan out what you are going to say and why you want to say it.
Proper planning requires that you answer the following questions.
• Who are the audience and what is their current attitude and level of knowledge about the topic on which I am going to present? The better you understand your audience, the easier it will be for you to choose content that resonates with them.• What do I want them to do afterwards, as a result of this presentation? Having a clear objective is essential if your presentation is going to be effective. Surprisingly most people omit this part and, as a result, their unconscious aim is “survival” i.e. to fill a slot of time without making a fool of themselves. Hardly a recipe for a persuasive presentation!
• What am I going to say that helps move my audience’s thinking from where they are at the beginning of the presentation, to where I want them to be at the end? What facts and figures do I need to present? What concrete examples, case studies and metaphors can I include to help them to understand this abstract data and its implications and be motivated to take action?Rehearse – practice is the best way to prevent embarrassing mistakes.
Writing out a speech is a great start but, if the first time you read it out loud is when you are in front of your audience, you are taking a big risk. Ideally, rehearse your speech out loud, in front of a group of supportive colleagues who can give you constructive feedback. Failing that, I suggest that you record yourself using a Dictaphone or app on your smartphone and then listen to the playback. Rehearsal serves several purposes. Firstly It helps you to refine your speech by ironing out any unnatural sounding or difficult to pronounce words and phrases. Secondly it helps you to memorise the flow of your presentation so that you can let go of your script and improvise around your structural route plan. Thirdly it helps you check that you do not have too much content for your allocated time.
Visualise success rather than failure. Visualisation or mental rehearsal is a proven performance enhancing technique, which is widely used and accepted in the sports world. When Usain Bolt was interviewed after setting a new 100m world record in 2009, he said, “I just visualised and then executed my plan.” Unfortunately, many nervous speakers unconsciously envision failure when they think about giving a speech. They focus on what could go wrong or what has gone wrong in previous presentations.
Consciously visualising yourself presenting at your very best is much more helpful, just like Usain Bolt. The more often you can vividly imagine yourself speaking confidently and fluently the more confident you’ll feel and the more likely you are to do well.Change your language and you change your focus.
The words we use when we speak to ourselves are at least as important as the ones we say to our audience. Have you ever noticed how, when you say to yourself “I am feeling nervous”, your brain starts reminding you of all the negative things you typically associate with nerves. The next time you notice a symptom you would usually label as “nerves”, such as sweating, rapid heart or shallow breathing, label it as “excitement” or “anticipation” rather than nerves. Notice how doing this changes your thinking. For most people, this simple but powerful technique produces a much more positive and resourceful state if being. Changing your physiology can boost your confidence levelsYou probably already know that your thoughts have a tremendous impact on your body, but did you know that you can use your body to change your thoughts? Physical activity, for example, is an excellent way to settle your nerves.
Stretching, walking, deep breathing and even dancing have been proven to change our mood almost instantaneously. Another powerful technique is to practice deep breathing. When we get nervous, our breathing often becomes shallow and rapid, and this in turn, makes us feel even less confident. It also means that we often run out of air before the end of a sentence. If this happens to you, take a couple of deliberate deep, slow breaths before you start to speak. You will discover that this simple act will calm your nerves and ensure that you have enough air to speak clearly and audibly.
Many people also find that changing the way they stand has an enormous impact on how they feel. When they are nervous, they have a tendency to hunch their shoulders and lower their heads. When they changed their stance by standing with their feet hip-width apart, and their toes turned out slightly, they noticed a significant improvement in their confidence levels. Try this for yourself and you will see how for yourself how adopting this posture will cause you to stand more upright. Your shoulders will naturally go back, and your head will come up. You’ll look and feel much more confident. Harness Your Energy – turn fidgeting into engagement.
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