Your presentation is imminent.
Are you nervous ? Of course you are. It’s perfectly natural. 75% of the population is said to be fearful of public speaking.
But why are you nervous ? What do you fear ? Perhaps you’re anxious that you’ll forget your words, or stumble or falter. Maybe you fear that your words and your message will not be considered to be of any great value by your audience. Perhaps you’re not confident of the technology you’re using. Or you fear that you’ll trip, or shake, or that your legs will turn to jelly. You’ll likely be anxious about all eyes being on you, and you being found wanting.
Are your fears reasonably valid ? Well, yes – they are. You might forget your words. You could well stumble through sections of your speech. You might be judged harshly by a critical audience. Your technological choices might fail you. Your hands might shake, and your legs might feel as if they’re about to give way under you.
But, despite the real possibility of disaster, the fact is that you have the power to ensure that you SUCCEED. Everything you fear can be identified and dealt with BEFORE your speech. If you do this, you should be able to change your feeling of extreme nervousness to mild, but confident, apprehension. As your confidence grows with repeated presentations, you might even be able to identify your nervousness as excitement – put a positive spin on those butterflies, and put your adrenalin to constructive work, engaging with your audience !
But it’s not easy, is it ? I offer you the following tips to help you. They’re straightforward, but worth following. (I speak from many years of experience.)
Prepare your speech with your audience in mind. Find out about your audience. Who are they ? Why will they be there ? What do they care about ? Constantly ask yourself “Will this be of interest, or be relevant, to my audience ?” If the answer is no, you need to go back to the drawing board. Once your speech is crafted to cater to your audience’s needs and interests, you will not be anxious that what you say might have no value – you will, instead, be confident of its value !
Structure your speech so that it flows, and so that you recognise the milestones as you go through it. This helps with memorising, and, most importantly, also with your audience being able to follow your logic as your deliver your speech.. (Remember not to have more than 3, and a maximum of 5, key points !)
Visit the venue beforehand if possible. Or, at least, research it. You need to be able to visualise where you will be standing relative to your audience. You need to know whether you will need a mike, whether there’s a lectern, whether there’s a data projector, whether you need a long lead, etc. You need to be able to prepare for all the logistics of the presentation. You’ll need to be familiar with all of your requirements. Once you have prepared, you will have dealt with an aspect that you might well have been worrying about.
Rehearse your speech numerous times. Rehearse it as you intend to present it. If you are going to use slides, rehearse using these, if you are going to use notes, rehearse with your notes, etc. If you plan to talk completely from memory, rehearse until you can do this COMFORTABLY. Rehearse OUT LOUD. Time yourself, and be sure that your delivery fits within the allocated time. Record yourself – preferably using a video camera, but use a voice recorder on your phone, at the least. Understand how you look and how you sound, and improve both if need be. If you have an honest friend or relative, rehearse in front of them. Take their constructive feedback on board.
Learn to belly breathe. Breathe before and during your speech. Make sure your brain is getting a good dose of oxygen.
Turn your nervous energy into gestures. Let your body help you dissipate the tension you’re feeling. (Keep the gestures natural though ! But don’t keep your body stiff. You’ll look strange, and you’ll feel more and more anxious.)
Stand tall. When your posture is confident, you will find that you feel more confident. (Keep your shoulders relaxed though – don’t let them creep up to your ears !)
Focus on friendly faces. Talk to each individual. Talking to a mass of people becomes impersonal. Remember that you are talking to individuals. Make eye contact. Be as conversational as you can be. You will definitely feel more relaxed. You might even manage a smile !
Visualise success. Do you think top sportspeople or musicians see themselves failing when they imagine their next performance ? No. They see themselves performing at their all-time best. Why don’t you do the same ? If it works for you, create a mantra, and say it. Or write it down and put it where you can see it. Keep your end goal in mind. For example, you might say “The audience will be inspired by my speech on Friday”, or “My staff will really buy into the need to cut costs after my presentation”. (Don’t craft your goal in terms of yourself – it’s all about getting a message across to the audience, after all.)
No nerves are never a good thing. A high level of caring about delivering well on your audience’s expectations is always helpful.
Have fun !