After more than a decade of giving presentations, interacting with other corporate speakers and running presentation skills training, I’ve learned that just about everyone, even seasoned presenters and entertainers, experience presentation-related fear. If you get nervous presenting, you are not alone. Far from it.
My years spent working at the comedy club Yuk Yuk’s, taught me that even some of the most successful comics suffered an attack of the jitters before going onstage. When fear takes hold of a presenter or entertainer, particularly when it becomes obvious, it’s excruciating for everyone.
How do I get over my fear of speaking?
This is inevitably the first question I’m asked when teaching presentation courses. And I understand why.
On my way to a big presentation many years ago, I was uncharacteristically gripped by fear. The speaking engagement was a keynote talk for the graduating class of a college I’d worked with for years. Many of the faculty and students were known to me.
I considered the fact that my talk would set the tone for the day, and I cared deeply about these graduates and the impact my performance would have on what would be a milestone moment for them. As I was driving to the campus, I called a friend to relay my fear and the nagging butterflies in my stomach. I was wisely counselled,
‘It’s not about getting rid of the butterflies, it’s about getting them all to fly in the same direction.’
It worked, in fact I conveyed this wisdom to my audience, but not before many of them confided in me the moment I walked in the door that they were nervous to give their presentations that afternoon! Your fear of presenting may stay with you, possibly for the entirety of your career. Do not let it stop you. Prepare for your fear and develop coping strategies.
Here are three of the tips I discuss during my Livingroom Learning courses and in my book to help presenters harness their presentation fears:
#1 KICK IT OFF LIKE A ROCK-STAR!
Present the content you know best or feel best about first. When playing live, bands create set-lists using this methodology – kicking off the show with songs that will get the crowd on their feet immediately, getting buy-in and in turn allaying any nerves they have in the bargain. As presenters we can get bogged down by flow, content, or the pressure of what we think other people want us to say. Of course there will be a message you’re required to communicate, but as the speaker, you always have some creative control over how the message is communicated. Make your presentation your own, make it work for you. If you’re having an anxiety attack on stage, believe me - your message will matter very little. Your audience will be too busy melting into their seats and feeling awkward to retain anything you’re saying!
#2 CONDUCT A FEAR AUDIT
Anticipate what will make you fearful and make a plan to overcome any predictable problems in advance. If you know you don’t like holding a microphone (like me!) and think you might have to, take charge. Go and speak to the venue coordinators and the sound and audio technicians before your presentation to see if you can get a clip-on mic instead. Is the room small enough that you don’t need one? DROP.THE.MIC! If there is no handheld mic alternative, start the presentation by holding the mic with both hands one over the other. That way, if your hand is shaking no one will notice. It works, trust me As soon as you’re calm, remove your hand (only one!) for more open body language.
#3 STRIKE A POSE
I love the advice of author Amy Cuddy, and highly recommend her talks and her book, Presence. Her talks focus on body language, and the impact of power poses on our minds. She recommends heading to the bathroom before a presentation, locking yourself in a stall and standing for 5 – 10 minutes with your shoulders open and your hands on your hips. If you don’t have to cling to a mic during your presentation, put your hands on your hips for the first few minutes of the presentation. Power poses are one way to convince your mind you are in control, your audience will buy it. As Cuddy says, fake it till you make it!
Okay, just one more...!
I repeat, always anticipate technical difficulties. I’ve been in this game for some time (the better part of two decades) in venues large and small. Technical difficulties happen…often.
I’ve seen technical problems throw off even the best, most experienced presenters. Stay calm. Smile. Have a backup plan. Improvise: For a smaller group huddle around your computer when the big screen fails to connect to your device, tell the story your slides would have told, and don’t worry about your slides. YOU are the presentation and always should be. You have the opportunity to create a fun memory through a minor misfortune. It will all work out, I promise. You are at the helm, and it’s your job to keep your audience positive and engaged either until your technology is back on track , or if it’s completely irretrievable.
Being a truly great, confident presenter will do wonders for your career and for your life. The first few minutes of any presentation are critical and will set the tone, so the sooner you can get all those butterflies flying the same direction the better. You’ve got this (hands on hips!).
Amy Davies is a corporate trainer, career advancement and reorg expert. She is the author of A Spark In The Dark: Illuminating Your Path To A Brilliant Career In A Reorg World. If you need help identifying or dealing with bullies in your organization, or think your organization could benefit from a talk about workplace bullies and how to handle them, please feel free to set up a free discovery call here or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Livingroom Learning:
Livingroom Learning provides the ideal atmosphere and experience for teams or individuals to develop new skills and for enhancing performance. Courses are tailored to accommodate all skill levels.
Course content is designed and led by veteran professional speaker and leading strategy and insights expert Amy Davies. Amy’s vast expertise in delivering superior, proven public speaking training programs combined with a comfortable, informal atmosphere makes for a unique and memorable learning experience.