The fact of the matter is that almost everyone gets nervous before they present. It’s more common then you think. Even the guy or girl who seems confident, assured, and genuinely comfortable in front of a group gets a twinge of anxiety before they utter their first word. Although I’ve spent over a decade sharing some of my personal strategies for improving public speaking, I’m continually asked for the strategies that a public speaker can start implementing immediately. Here a just a few techniques that can make all the difference.
- Image you’re talking to a friend. Many people get overwhelmed when presenting because of the pressure associated with speaking to strangers. I don’t know about you, but if I had to approach someone new at a bar or other social situation, that could cause some anxiety. Multiply that by hundreds of people and boom, stage fright. Instead of overwhelming yourself, imagine that you’re talking to one of your best friends in the audience, not a room full of strangers. It’s a simple technique, but it works. You may even consider selecting a few individuals in the room who you’ll make eye contact with throughout the presentation, this takes a large, overwhelming experience and narrows it down to a small, intimate group.
- Admit your weaknesses. Perfection can be your greatest friend or your biggest enemy. Your goal shouldn’t be perfection or speaking with the same skills as Dale Carnegie. Allow yourself to be “okay”, not perfect. Your audience doesn’t expect you to be “perfect” and it’s an unattainable goal. Focus on what you know and your willingness to share with the audience. This can put you at ease and help you enjoy your presentation.
- Minimize your visual anxiety. This may seem basic but if you’re working on reducing your anxiety while presenting in front of others, don’t accentuate it. What I mean is that you should use what you have at your disposal to minimize the appearance of seeming anxious. Stand behind a podium, don’t hold up visual aids (if you have a tendency to tremble), and wear a turtleneck if your throat or chest get flushed. If you take some minor precautions, you eliminate the worry of, “oh my goodness, they can see how nervous I am”. These preparatory steps eliminate fears and mask anxiety provoking situations.
- Know your audience. In addition to focusing on just a few people in the room, you can also put your mind at ease by getting to know your audience. Who are they? What do they have in common? Learn all you can about the people you’ll be presenting to. This can put your mind at ease and make the audience seem less intimidating. The more you know, the better prepared you will be.
- Get comfortable with your surroundings. If you have the opportunity to visit the room where you’ll be presenting beforehand, do so. By getting a lay of the land, you reduce situation anxiety – being in an unfamiliar place. Even if you just “peak in” and don’t actually do a dry run in the room where you’ll be speaking, you can dramatically reduce anxiety associated with the unknown.
- The game is rigged. When presenting to a group, remember they want you to succeed. People feel badly when others are uncomfortable, anxious, or fail at a given task. Generally, people want you to succeed. This is especially true in the area of presenting. Your audience wants to be engaged and they also want you to succeed. Relax and focus on the positive, the audience is on your side
- Practice, practice, practice. Chances are that you didn’t find out about your presentation 30 seconds ago. As such, you should take the time to rehearse for your presentation. Whether you have just a few minutes or a few days, some level of preparation is necessary and effective. By visualizing success and rehearsing your material, preferably in front of a mirror, you dramatically improve your chances of delivering a well-polished presentation.
- Control your breathing. One of the best ways to do so is by speaking through your diaphragm. This deep breathing can help relax you during your presentation with slow, controlled breathing. By focusing on meaningful breathing, you can put yourself in a relaxed state. In fact, breathing is one of the best places to manage your anxiety.
- Believe in yourself. You can do this. Whether you have years of public speaking experience or just a few days, talking to others is a natural part of our existence. All of our anxiety is created by fear and self-doubt. Think of another time when you were sure of yourself, confident, and ready to take on the world. Bring the same feeling with you to your presentation.
- Use a basic outline for your presentation. If you’ve taken the time to adequately prepare for your speech, you really don’t need to write down every word. How many times have you gone to a presentation and found someone reading their presentation. It undermines your authority and sends negative signals to the audience. Use and outline to help guide your presentation and avoid reading.
These tips should help you prepare for your next speech… but they are simply guidelines to follow. Effective presentations require subject matter expertise, command of your breathing, and rehearsal. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity to present. Practice makes perfect.