Making presentations in front of a group of people is feared worse than death by most people. Literally. There is an antidote! It’s called practice and preparation. It is the only thing that will beat presentation anxiety. Here are some tools that can help your preparation:
Start with the kindest audience
Once you know what you are going to say, don’t keep it to yourself until the big moment. Say it out loud. Yes, you may feel stupid but it’s very worth it. The more times the words come out of your mouth, the more comfortable they’ll feel when you have the added stress of an audience in front of you. An audience of dogs is a great place to start. Then work up to a trusted peer or family member. Get feedback, but mostly just focus on finding the right words to communicate your ideas.
Know how to start and finish
Write out the introduction and conclusion word for word. Memorize it. Set yourself out on a steady course. What may seem like child’s play to remember when you are alone may seem impossible to bring to mind when you have a room full of people staring at you. And no one likes a talk that peters out. Save something for the end, and be gracious and clear about how you are wrapping it up. Are you taking questions? For how long? Is there a book signing? Autograph session? After party?
Get control of your body
You can be nervous on the inside and calm on the outside. It’s called Acting! People do it all the time. If you can gain control of your body movements – no fidgeting, nervous pacing, or hands in pockets – and just stand fairly still with your hands relaxed and to your sides, you will look calm. You can use your hands to emphasize points, but make sure they are moving at a relaxed pace. Most of all, breathe slowly and deeply. If you breathe slowly and deeply, you will relax yourself.
Know that the audience is pulling for you
The audience is not your enemy – they want you to succeed. Think about how you feel when you are in the audience and a speaker is uncomfortable. You start to feel uncomfortable, too. The presenter radiates energy to the audience. If you feel calm, confident, and energized, so will they.
One of the greatest investments I ever made was to go through Dale Carnegie Leadership Training, which provided weekly opportunities to prepare, practice and perform in a supportive environment. Toastmasters is another option and is free, and there are Toastmasters meetings most everywhere.
Join up with others on the quest to be great presenters – it’s incredibly valuable and fun!