Feeling nervous comes with the territory. “The trick to overcoming nerves is knowing that you’re in control,” according to an article by Toastmasters International. The article continues: “Before conquering his fear, billionaire investor Warren Buffett said he used to throw up before giving a presentation. Buffett practiced presenting in front of small groups until he became more comfortable and is now one of the most coveted speakers in the world.”
Good speakers are not all born that way. Don’t worry, you don’t need to have good public-speaking DNA. Improving your presentation skills only requires some practice. Stand in front of a mirror, or video record yourself delivering the presentation. As difficult as this can be, it is far better to practice your presentation and identify potential idiosyncrasies rather than making them in the front of the room. Watch your facial expressions and body language, and listen to your rate and pace of speaking. You can also deliver presentations to smaller groups before launching your big event. This will give you real-time practice and help you build confidence.
Preparation is key. Nothing helps you feel more confident than thoroughly preparing for your presentation. When you know the subject matter well, you’ll feel more comfortable and confidentdelivering the information. One way to increase your knowledge is to thoroughly research the topic. Payman Taei, founder of Visme, a platform that helps people create visual presentations and infographics, suggests the following in a Visme blog post: “Immerse yourself in the information you found in your research. Dig deeper and find answers. The more you look into it, the more you become acquainted with the topic and eventually become an expert on the matter.”
Sound rehearsed, but not robotic. Memorizing your entire presentation won’t make you sound better. In fact, you’ll probably sound mechanical or rote. “You should not memorize your entire presentation, but rather your opening, key points and conclusion. Then, rehearse enough so you can ‘forget it’,” recommends Patricia Fripp, an award-winning keynote speaker, in a recent Toastmasters press release. Attempting to memorize a presentation can also cause anxiety. There is no need to put that type of pressure on yourself. Practice enough so you know the order of your presentation. You’ll find yourself in the zone and present without worrying about what you’ll say next.
Keep moving; don’t stand still. When you are nervous or anxious, your body produces adrenaline. Drain your nervous energy by walking around rather than standing still, if possible. Even if you slowly walk in either direction of the podium a couple of steps, using your energy can help calm your nerves. Use subtle hand gestures as well. Small, smooth and purposeful movements can help engage the audience and add emphasis to key points in your presentation.
Stand up straight, and breathe. If you can’t move around, you can make sure you are standing with your shoulders slightly back and your spine straight. This stance conveys confidence and makes it easier to breathe. Before your presentation, shake your shoulders, and take several slow, deep breaths to help you relax.
Think positively. If you focus on all the things that could go wrong, you’ll likely get more nervous. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to prepare for worst-case scenarios, like having a backup plan in case your slides won’t load or your mic doesn’t work. What you want to do is train your brain to envision the positive outcomes, like a standing ovation or people congratulating you after your presentation. Remember: Your presentation and feeling of discomfort won’t last forever. At the very worst, it will subside after you finish speaking. That means there is a light at the end of the tunnel, so focus on that! We can endure almost anything if we know how long it will last.
Find a friend. Look for someone you know in the audience, and when you make eye contact, smile. Smiling tends to make you and your audience feel more comfortable. This little trick will also help you make eye contact with the audience. People want to see you succeed, and you will find many more people smiling when you are on the lookout.
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