If you are like most people, then public speaking or presenting is one of your major fears. But take a second to think about this: Unless you are talking only to yourself, you are doing what is known as public speaking. You may not have to speak to hundreds at one time, but in your everyday life, some form of public speaking is a common occurrence. With this in mind, you owe it to yourself to develop the strategies and techniques to manage your nerves so you can concentrate on delivering an effective and engaging presentation.
To tackle your nervousness and bring it under control, remember these six key tips. These tips are all designed to help you focus on your audience and their needs rather than on yourself and your fears.
Analyze your audience.
Define what makes your audience unique by identifying their concerns, biases, and questions. Find people who are representative of your anticipated audience and ask what they would expect from the presentation. In addition, greet audience members at the door and do a quick survey of why they are there and what their expectations are.
Know your material.
Nothing is worse for nerves than trying to give a presentation on an unfamiliar topic. Making sure you've properly understood your audience and their needs will help ensure your material is on-target.
Also remember that you can't possibly cover everything you know in one presentation. Select the most pertinent points from your subject base and supplement them with other material if time allows.
Organize your presentation.
Organize your presentation so that you give yourself reminders about upcoming material. Have a set of key phrases and refer to these phrases to trigger your memory as to what is coming up next. If you're using slides, use these key phrases in your transitions.
Take the necessary steps to plan and develop your message so that you follow my 3G Rule: Grab the audience’s attention, Guide them through your message, and Get them to take action!
Practice, practice, practice.
Familiarity builds confidence, and practice helps you to deliver your words naturally. This means your words will be coming more from your heart and mind, rather than from a piece of paper.
Learn the organization and order of your presentation. Record yourself to listen to how you speak, your tone, and your speed, and adjust appropriately. My recommendation is to practice your entire presentation, including any visuals, at least six times.
[Related: Beyond the PowerPoint: How to Present A Message, and Not Just a Slide]
Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Once you know what you are going to say, you need to prepare yourself for the actual delivery. Anticipate problems and have backups and contingencies in place in case of equipment failure. If possible, give everything one last run-through in the actual environment. Remember to prepare responses to anticipated questions.
Calm yourself from within.
Nervousness causes physiological reactions which are mostly attributed to the increase of adrenaline in your system. You can counteract these effects with a few simple techniques:
- Practice deep breathing – Deep breathing is one of the easiest and fastest relaxation techniques.
- Drink water – Have a glass of water handy. Take sips occasionally, especially when you want to emphasize a point.
- Smile – This is a natural relaxant that sends positive chemicals through your body.
- Use visualization techniques – Imagine that you are delivering your presentation to an audience that is interested, enthused, smiling, and reacting positively. Positive visualization is powerful!
- Just before you start talking: Pause, make eye contact, and smile – This last moment of peace is relaxing and gives you time to adjust to being the center of attention.
- Speak more slowly than you would in a conversation – Also, leave longer pauses between sentences. This slower pace will calm you down, and it will also make you easier to hear, especially at the back of a large room.
- Move around during your presentation – This will expend some of your nervous energy.
- Stop Thinking About Yourself (S.T.A.Y.) – Remember that the audience is there for information and it is your job to get it across to them.
[Related: 3 Business Strategies Presenters Can Learn From Performers]
Kelli Stonework is a management professional with over twenty years experience covering the function areas of project management, business finance and analysis, customer service, performance reporting, and curriculum development and training. For further information on this topic, you can find her on Twitter and read her most recent work, The Ultimate Presentation Roadmap: How to Write for the Right Audience and Present with Confidence.