If you’re anxious about giving a presentation, you’re not alone. Seventy four percent of people fear public speaking, but with preparation and practice, they can become proficient presenters, confident in what they have to say and how people will receive it. Here are a few tips to calm your presentation fears and give a knockout presentation each and every time.
Thoughtfully Develop Your Material
Clear, concise material is the easiest to present. Organize your material in a logical, consistent format so that one thought logically flows into another. It’s helpful to think of the material in terms of chapters, like a book. Create an introduction, body, and a conclusion. Cut out any unnecessary points so you have time to fully develop the important material. What are the questions you’d have about the material if you were hearing someone else give this presentation? Make sure those questions are answered within the material that you’re presenting.
There are two ways to craft a presentation. One is to script every word, but this leaves you no room for ad-lib, and it makes it easy to lose your train of thought and derail the presentation. It is much more effective to make an outline, listing only the key points of each topic. Then you can fill in the body as you speak without fear of getting sidetracked and losing your place. Think of it less like a memorized speech and more like a natural delivery of information.
Prepare Yourself Mentally Before You Begin
Mental preparation is as important as learning your material. First, realize that your audience has a vested interested in your success, just as you do. After all, they’re investing time and effort into attendance, and they want it to be profitable. Nobody in your audience wants to see you fail. Next, learn how to calm yourself. You can do this by picturing yourself giving a brilliant presentation instead of visualizing yourself messing up.
Picture yourself sitting in the audience, watching yourself deliver an interesting, engaging, informative presentation. Also, learn some calming techniques, such as breathing exercises, to calm your nerves right before you step up to present. A good way to break the ice and allow yourself time to calm down before the presentation is to hand out useful swag, like promotional pens so everyone can take notes. These few minutes spent handing out pens before the presentation allow you to meet and greet the audience and practice your relaxation techniques before stepping up to speak.
Rehearse Thoroughly Well Ahead of Time to Present
Develop your presentation way ahead of time so you have a lot of time to rehearse it. Whether you’re using Powerpoint or other visual aids, practice with whatever you plan to use on the day of your presentation. If possible, have a friend or family member sit in so you can practice in front of an audience. Run through the presentation a few times to familiarize yourself with the subject, and then practice in front of someone else.
It’s a good idea to prepare a method for people in the audience to ask questions. If you’re intimately familiar with the topic, instruct them before you begin to simply raise their hands if they have questions. Or, before you start, ask them to hold all questions for after the presentation. This way, you don’t have to worry about getting sidetracked during your rehearsed performance. A knowledgeable coworker might volunteer to have a pretend question and answer session during rehearsals so you’re prepared for this part too.
Be a Human, Not a Robot
The only danger of over-rehearsing is to memorize the material to the point that you sound more like a robot than a human presenter. Stay fluid enough to remain engaging and entertaining rather than just an informer of the facts. Don’t hesitate to work in relevant anecdotes, a few tasteful jokes, or other lighthearted methods for keeping the audience involved and engaged in the presentation.
Take time to watch other presentations for insight and inspiration. For instance, you can check out some of Zig Ziglar’s inspiring presentations on YouTube. Ziglar is one of the most engaging speakers in the modern era, and you can learn a lot from his techniques and how he takes command of an audience in a personal way. Or, find one of your own favorite orators and emulate what they do to make their presentations spectacular.
Take Control of the Presentation From the Beginning
When it’s time to step up and begin the presentation, take the reins. This is your time, your audience, and your subject matter. You’ve developed good material, practiced it until you’re an expert, and you’ve relaxed your nerves so that you can think and speak coherently. Now, let go of those fears and allow the presentation to shine. Speak more slowly than you think you should, because it’s human nature to speak faster when speaking in front of others. Force yourself to breathe at a normal pace in order to pace your speech.
Don’t worry if someone asks you a question to which you don’t know the answer. Even experts don’t know every single thing about their topic. Offer to research the answer and get back to them, or ask them to find out and let you know because you’re interested in the answer too. Never let a single questioner take over the presentation. If someone has lengthy comments or wants to start a debate, ask them to meet with you after the presentation or during break.
With the proper preparation, there is no reason to fear giving a presentation. In fact, many people are able to overcome their fear of public speaking and eventually learn to love giving presentations. This does take time and a lot of practice, but it isn’t uncommon at all. Just remember, your audience wants to see you succeed as much as you do. Nobody enjoys sitting through a poor presentation. In fact, audiences are more likely to step up and help the speaker save a teetering presentation than to ambush one. Prepare, relax, and do your thing.