It takes at least three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.
Whether you’ve got three weeks or three months to prepare, giving a presentation or speaking in public can be daunting.
In fact public speaking is right up there with most people’s worst fears: dying, heights, enclosed spaces, spiders. It seems we’d rather face a mob baying for blood than deliver a short 5-minute presentation on the latest sales figures. It’s a little bit bonkers.
Ok’ness is a state of mind
Getting nervous is not always something you can do much about. But, dealing with nerves is less about banishing them completely than about using them to your advantage. You need them. They are your friend.
As Mr Twain said, ‘There are two types of speakers. Those who are nervous and those who are liars.’ I think his point was that it’s completely normal to have a few butterflies before speaking in public. The important thing, as the saying goes, is to get those butterflies ‘flying in formation’.
So, how do we do it?
Firstly, imagine what you’d be like if you never got nervous… ever… about anything.
You’d be unspeakably annoying for one thing. 100% confidence can make you seem arrogant, less human, harder to relate to. Your presentations would also leave a lot to be desired. Where’s the energy? The adrenaline? The tension? All gone, and not just from you but from your audience too. We need to accept that nerves are a natural and necessary part of speaking in public. In fact they are essential if we are to raise our game.
It’s what you do with that excess energy that’s crucial.
Nervous presenters tend to focus on the negative. They only see the faults, the things that are going wrong. They don’t consider all the good points they may also be making. This then becomes self-fulfilling as they begin to panic and make more mistakes. Pretty soon it’s gone from a presentation to an exercise in survival and damage limitation.
But telling a nervous presenter to just relax is about as useful as telling someone who’s afraid of water to ‘Just dive in…’ Rather than getting rid of your nervous energy it needs to be channeled into giving a good presentation.
Confidence comes from knowing you are good and that you are well prepared. Polished presenters turn the excess energy caused by nerves into a positive. This positive energy then infuses the audience. If you are enthusiastic your audience will be too.
Preparation, planning and practice will help you deal with nerves. Always have a clear message and be sure about your content. You’ll feel less nervous, engage in more eye contact and in turn feel more confident.
Learning the first minute or so of your presentation off by heart can also be a good way of beating the butterflies. This gives you the opportunity to get into your stride and settle into your own rhythm. Once you’ve done that you’ll hopefully have forgotten you were nervous in the first place.
Also, practise, practise, practise. Whatever you’ve heard from people saying they don’t like to go through it too many times in case it becomes stilted and wooden – ignore completely. Unless you’re Robin Williams, trying to keep an audience engaged, even semi-on-the-hoof, is likely to end badly. Practise as many times as you can, in front of a mirror, with a friend/colleague, in the car, out running, anywhere until it’s second nature. That’s why good speakers make it look like second nature on the day… because it is.
If you aren’t familiar with the room you’ll be working in try and find a picture of it online. Then imagine how you will position yourself and interact with your audience. Practise as though you are there (and that it’s going well!)
A few dos and don’ts.
Always remember the most important tool you’ve got is you. It’s not PowerPoint and it’s not the fancy graph on slide 4 that no one can read anyway. Never apologise (unless you are really late) and don’t fiddle as you’ll look uneasy. Using gesture for emphasis is obviously brilliant as long as it’s not too Kate Bush.
Don’t do the fig leave as though you are standing on the edge of the area defending a free kick. Stand straight and tall, feet shoulder width apart. This is your territory and you need to own it. Look at all of your audience, not just some of them and, regardless of how much you want to hide behind that massive lectern – don’t. You’ll appear much more confident if the audience can see the full length of your body.
Always invite questions if at all possible and, all being well, look forward to the next one!
If you want to know more, take a look at our Presentation Training Skills Workshops. Got some specific questions? You can always contact me directly on 01799 531642 or just email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to help.