I recently coached an executive— working for a multinational communications firm no less, who was asked to deliver a presentation at her company’s annual international partners’ conference. We’ll call her Julie for the sake of propriety.
As the presentation day loomed, Julie’s anxiety levels were through the roof, and more than once she nearly chickened out. She was terrified at the prospect of failing in front of her clients, colleagues and management— including one of the company’s vice presidents who was visiting from their Paris office.
Many of us are familiar with the feelings of apprehension that surface when we’re faced with the daunting task of presenting to a large audience. The good news is that presentation nerves are totally normal. Perhaps what isn’t, is the debilitating fear Julie was gripped by.
Here are 6 winning tactics that Julie found most useful in overcoming the presentation anxiety that nearly got the best of her:
- Believe that you, AND what you have to say matters.
Henry Ford said it best, “If you think you can, or can’t do something you are probably right!”
I must add that not only do you need to believe you can, but that you must. Julie started winning the moment she began to believe that she would be robbing her audience of valuable insight if she were to opt out of speaking at the conference.
You see, Julie is not only intelligent and competent, she is an asset to her company— and possesses a unique perspective her boss knew the entire company would be enriched by being exposed to.
You matter, and so does what you have to say. You wouldn’t be asked to speak otherwise. Believe it!
- Less is more.
Keep your message simple. And yes, even if your audience is on the same technical level as you, opt for simple words and accessible phrases, and resist the urge to use jargon.
- Visual aids should enhance your presentation, and not distract your audience.
The word is ‘visual’, not ‘text-ual’. So think ‘pictures’ rather than ‘text’. Don’t fall into the trap of cramming your PowerPoint presentations with copy, as your audience is pretty much guaranteed to lose interest.
One of the best ways to distract your audience from what you’re saying is turning your PowerPoint presentation into a reading lesson. So again, less is more.
When designing your slides, incorporate symbols and images that evoke meaning and simplify complex ideas.
- Rehearse until you can’t get it wrong.
It might surprise you to know that in nearly three decades of coaching executives on presentation skills, 9 out 10 of all my clients have admitted that they seldom rehearse their presentations. Go figure!
Remember, practise (corrected) is not the thing that you do once you are good, it is the thing that you do that makes you good.
- Breathe deeply.
In the minutes leading up to your presentation, always take a moment to centre yourself. Quietly inhale deeply and hold your breath for several seconds, and then exhale slowly. This will help you to release tension and get into a calmer head space. By repeating this process 3-4 times will leave you feeling more centred (UK spelling) and ready to connect with your audience and have a good time.
- Dress for success.
Happily, Julie not only overcame her fears and made it to the podium, she also killed it when she did eventually speak. In fact, she’s already been asked to speak again. However, what she chose to wear for the occasion nearly tripped her up.
It’s not that she was inappropriately dressed, but rather that she decided to step out in a brand new outfit she had never worn before. She looked great, but felt uncomfortable in her new threads. The added burden of ‘baby-sitting’ her new ensemble very nearly sapped her confidence.
The moral: dress for success, but never at the expense of all the hard work that you put in.