“The human brain starts working moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public.” (Sir George Jessel)
Have you had this feeling before? Rest assured you are not alone. You might be one of many who would rate your fear of public speaking alongside or ahead of death! Your fear may translate itself to “FEAR” – Forget Everything And Run!!
Having ability to present yourself and your message to an audience, whether internal or external, is a necessary skill for a good manager and leader. By following some simple steps you can improve your skills in this area, reduce your fear and build your confidence. As you have more success in making presentations you may well find yourself actually looking forward to doing more of them. Clients, colleagues and other staff will be more responsive and supportive. You will realise principles apply to groups of 2 – 200 and above, and whether sitting across a desk or in a conference hall.
Why do you want to improve your skills in this area? It might be to reduce feelings of nerves – or even panic. Maybe to reduce risk of making yourself look a fool in front of audience? Or you may want to be able to present yourself and your message with more confidence and conviction to win people over. Perhaps you want to be able to look forward to making presentations? Whatever your reasons, principles we will cover here will help you.
The biggest challenge for most people when asked to make a presentation is way their imaginations start to operate. All sorts of thoughts begin to swirl around – and how many are to do with things going wrong, fluffing words, audience reactions etc. etc. and compared with it going successfully and being enjoyable? One way to change this initial response is to follow basic ideas covered below. Also, accept that it is not a bad thing to have some nerves. They trigger a chemical reaction which, harnessed properly, will help to make your presentation a success.
The secret is to remember that when you see good presenters, you are only seeing tip of iceberg. A great deal has gone on beneath surface to enable them to be person you see. For those who have a real fear of presenting, they make problem worse. They go into denial of presentation, use this to keep putting off doing things beneath surface with all sorts of excuses and reasons – so that when they come to actual presentation it does not go well. Then they can say, “Told you so! See, I’m no good at presentations!” The art of self-fulfilling prophecy continues. To prevent paranoia – make time to do fundamentals! Plan and prepare. Also, have a realistic level of expectation. Too many people, when having to make a presentation, spend too much time focusing on themselves. There is a balance to be met – and secret for a good presentation is to keep focus on audience, and your subject and objective. Get first two right and third will take care of itself!
To get your planning underway, ask yourself some simple questions:
WHAT: Consider purpose of presentation, to inform, influence, inspire, generate action? Be more specific, what are my objectives from this? What are key things you want audience to take away with them – or to do?
WHO: Put your focus on people you will be presenting to. How many will they be? What are their objectives? What is their level of knowledge? Will they be a “willing” audience or were they sent? When you have answers to these points, you have some idea of what level to pitch your presentation.
WHERE: Is presentation going to be made in a meeting room, someone’s office, a large venue? What will be layout? How flexible is it? (You can always ask to have it set-up to suit you, though a boardroom table is hard to adjust!) What equipment is available? What do you need to take?
WHEN: What time of day are you presenting? Are there other presenters before and after you? What impact will these two answers have on your approach to presentation?
HOW: How long have you got? Remember, longer is not necessarily better! Also, although this may seem odd if you are nervous about presentations, it is harder to plan and prepare a brief, effective presentation than to organise a longer one. (Churchill, amongst others, is quoted as saying something along lines of, “It takes me 10 minutes to prepare for a 2 hour speech – and 2 hours to prepare for a 10 minute one.”)
Put answers to these together and you are in a position to begin preparation of presentation itself. Some things to consider are: