“No, no! Please don’t ask me to make a presentation. I can’t do it; I get too scared; I’ll faint; I won’t be able to breathe.”
Now, maybe you don’t have this extreme reaction when you’re asked to present, but perhaps your initial reaction is like a rabbit in the headlights and you mentally leap to how to avoid it or why you’re the wrong person or just how awful you’re going to feel.
All common responses; all completely understandable.
Why they’re understandable is that for most people standing in front of a group of people or sitting around a table presenting is unnatural, exposing, awkward and utterly nerve-wracking. It’s also why things like daises and PowerPoint and iPads are used so extensively – because they’re something to hide behind.
For a lot of people, they think there’s nothing they can do but endure and get through it.
If you’re one of those people, here are some things you can do before you make your next presentation and of course, when you’re actually in front of an audience.
- Do your homework. Too often I’ve seen people who felt they were too busy to prepare. I cannot emphasise enough just how important it is to be well-prepared. You don’t have to know every nuance of your material but you have to know enough to be able to reassure people you know what you’re talking about and how to direct people to learn more.
- Someone else’s slide deck. If you are expected to present someone else’s slide-deck, then make enough notes in your own voice so when you present it sounds like you, rather than presenting something that doesn’t quite fit.
- Avoid trying to wing it. Even if you’re well-prepared, you still need to rehearse and rehearse again. And again. If you use PowerPoint, then you absolutely have to learn how to make it work for you.
- Visit the space. There’s nothing like really knowing the arena you’ll be presenting in. Sometimes that may not be possible, but when it is, have a walk around the space, sit at the table, get a feel for the room’s vibes. Walking into an unknown place can be very unnerving, so getting to know it ahead of time will serve you very well.
- Make the space your own. Not only is it important to get a feel for the space, it’s also good to put your own stamp on it, even if all that means is shifting some chairs, moving a table, leaving brochures for people to take – really anything that shows you are connected to the space. For your audience, on an unconscious level, the more you ‘own’ the space, the more credibility it gives you.
- Breathe. That seems pretty obvious, but when your nerves are on over-drive, your breathing tends to be shallow which in turn can make you feel as though you aren’t getting enough oxygen. Before you start it really helps to take three or four deep slow breaths (note: if you take fast breaths you could well become dizzy and light-headed).
- Jump around. Not on stage but before hand you could jump up and down a few times or if that’s not possible, do some stretches. Even if you are sitting, you can still stretch your arms above your head, or turn your head slowly from side to side, shrug your shoulders; pretty much anything that will get you settled into your body.
- Take your time. When you’re scared, it’s easy to rush. By slowing things down right at the beginning, you will come across as thoughtful and considered. If this is indeed the first time in the space, if there’s any furniture or props (a dais, a table, a carafe of water, a computer or tablet, etc.) move them, handle them, place them where you want them.
- Eye contact. Again, when your nerves are strung as taut as they can stretch, it’s easy to stay buried in your notes or keep your eyes focused on your slides. Making eye contact with at least a few members of your audience is a good way to settle some of those nerves. Seek out a couple of friendly faces and return to them throughout the presentation.
- Sips of water. Think of taking sips of water as mini-breaks where you can gather your thoughts, look at your audience and move a bit. Moving around is really important if you find yourself becoming rooted to the spot. Not only will it help you breathe better, it will get your blood moving as well.
- Enjoy yourself?? Believe it or not, once your nerves are under manageable control, presenting can be an exciting, energising and engaging way to communicate with others.
Follow even just a few of these tips and you’ll feel a lot more like the king of the jungle than that poor, frightened rabbit.