How to overcome your fears and kick your presentations into gear

So, you have your presentation deck ready to go – packed with impressive facts, statistics, exciting videos and fancy infographics. It’s a real winner. But there’s just one snag – you need to deliver it.That’s right, your incredible presentation slides aren’t going to jump to life without someone standing in front of them who exudes the same charisma and character with which they were designed.

And that can be a gut-wrenching, butterfly inducing prospect. In fact, studies estimate as many as 75% of people suffer from speech anxiety which, in it’s most extreme form, is called glossophobiaBelieve it or not, research has suggested public speaking is the top most common phobia – above death and spiders! Even comedian Jerry Seinfeld once joked that the average person attending a funeral would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.

If this sounds like you, then clearly, you’re not alone. But with fears of public speaking said to be a major barrier to promotion opportunities – how can you get over it and come out the other side with massive round of applause?

Here are a few top tips to help you do just that.

Prepare well – but don’t memorise

It’s crucial to know your way around the presentation deck for that all-important confidence. Knowing your material well means you’ll be fully equipped to jump backwards and forwards through the slides to pin point information, graphics, deliver recaps, or respond to ad hoc questions as appropriate. Indeed, there’s nothing more unnerving than feeling so disconnected from the material that the only difference between you and the audience is where you’re standing!

But while memorising speeches and information might seem like a great “comfort blanket” – avoid this tactic at all costs. Not only will your speeches sound less authentic, but you’ll also find it difficult to recover if you get lost or taken off track by the audience. This is about really understanding your concepts so you’re free to find as many ways to explain them against the back drop of some well-presented and informative slides. Practising on a friend or colleague is a great way to familiarise yourself with the fundamentals of presentation.

Encourage audience participation and engagement

The thought of standing alone in front of an audience, speaking for minutes at a time can be an intimidating prospect.

What’s more, you’ll put extra strain on those nerves if you’re rattled by negative thoughts throughout your speech, such as; “Am I boring them?” Or, “Are they really getting it?”

So, why not get them involved? By inviting the audience to ask questions or even throwing in a few pop quizzes, you’ll feel less like you’re talking at them and more like you’re conversing with them on an equal footing – and you’ll quickly find out if they’re not picking up what you’re putting down. After all, not everyone enjoys being the center of attention, so don’t be afraid to shift it away from time to time.

It’s not a time trial so take a breath once in a while

Some people talk quickly when public speaking because they want to get it over with as soon as possible, while others think turning on the motor mouth is a demonstration of confidence and competence. But whatever the reason, churning through your presentation as fast as possible is most likely to lead to rambling, repetition, and more stress!

Slowing down your speech will relax the tension you feel, while a few frequent and strategically placed pauses can bring several other benefits. Pauses in speech will give the audience time to process information and connect with what you’re telling them on a deeper level.

What’s more, pausing before and after key points can also serve to convey emotion, draw attention to statements, and perhaps most importantly, give the speaker (that’s you!) time to regain composure – like a micro chillout.

Get to know all the usual audience facial expressions

When you’ve got tens, or even hundreds of faces in front of you, it can be too easy to get distracted or put off by all the different looks and reactions (or lack thereof). But don’t read too much into them. While it might be usual in conversation for the listener to give signs of approval, such as smiling or nodding, your audience is unlikely to behave in a similar way.

Presentations, by their very nature, are a less personal experience and blank stares are far more likely to be the result of concentration than disengagement. To boost your confidence, why not attend someone else’s presentation before delivering your own and study the faces around you.

Keep it real

Don’t fall into the trap of trying to emulate someone else’s stage persona – be your real self. Yes, you might have been recently impressed by your colleague’s wit and energy bouncing across the stage but trying your hand at acting will only lead to further stress and anxiety.

Remember, the audience is looking to make a connection with the person before them, so shine with your true characteristics, quirks and all, for an easier and more authentic experience.

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