Presentations can be frightening. However, you can conquer your presentation fears and become an excellent presenter to any audience by following some simple steps. Each step is simple to understand, practice and implement. These steps aren’t voodoo practices; they are substantiated with evidence from years of experience from developing and applying a few proven techniques.
1. Lack of Preparation
Taking time to plan what you want to accomplish goes a long way in reducing presentation fears. State your objective in one sentence and then think about the information and visuals you need to persuade your audience. Base your plan for your presentation on a careful analysis of the needs and expectations of your audience.
Think of your presentation as a story with a beginning, or introduction, a middle and an ending. Use this organization to plan where to start, where to take your audience, and what you want your audience to remember.
Throughout your planning, always focus on these three things: your audience, the information they expect to hear, and what they need to know to be persuaded to act on the information you are presenting. Your audience will be more accepting of your presentation if you offer them something they want to hear. However, what the audience wants to hear may not be obvious and, in some cases, they may not even be aware of their needs. When this is the case, clearly state the benefits to them and make clear that they will benefit from the information you present.
2. Slash Material
During your planning and discovery, you may gather a vast collection of ideas, material, data, and visuals. At some point, take a machete to your accumulation and slash your focus and material to a manageable, easily digestible size for both yourself and your audience. Keep cutting content until what remains adheres closely to the skeleton of your organizational structure, has a meaningful purpose, and is relevant to your audience’s level of knowledge and needs.
3. Identify the Best Medium
Many variables go into determining the best medium. If your audience is located throughout the world, you may need to host a teleconference or web conference. If information must be communicated urgently, a television or radio appearance might be appropriate. And if your audience is local, an in-person presentation in a public locale might be suitable. But when material can easily be presented in a written report or e-mail message, your audience might consider attending a scheduled speech inconsiderate and a waste of time and resources. Since there are advantages and disadvantage to every medium, weigh your options carefully.
Taking the time to rehearse your presentation offers many benefits. Rehearsals identify problems that can be embarrassing and identify opportunities that can make a good speech great. Rehearsing also allows presenters to become comfortable with their material and prevents lapses in concentration that can cause havoc when the preparation is lax.
Follow these suggestions to make the most of your rehearsal time.
Video Your Rehearsal
Today everyone has video recording technology available, whether by phone, laptop or digital camera. Although watching ourselves can be embarrassing, the video is the best resource to identify and correct or eliminate problems. Public speaking and presenting well is difficult, but practice, analysis and redoing can guarantee improvements.
Critiques, particularly by a member of the audience or someone who knows the audience, can be immensely valuable. A good reviewer can identify when you should slow down, take more time to explain points and adjust overheads, as well as offer other valuable insights.
Observe and Refine Non-Verbal Cues and Mannerisms
The words you speak account for only a small portion of what the audience uses to interpret and evaluate your message. When practicing, always spend time evaluating your body movement, vocal tone, vocal inflections, use of pauses and integration of technology. Step out from behind the podium and make eye contact to connect with your audience. Use facial expressions, hand movements, gestures, and vocal inflections to emphasize ideas. Stand upright and be careful to avoid leaning on the podium or slouching while standing or sitting. Adjust your tone, speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard throughout the room, and avoid empty, meaningless fillers like “umm,” “uhh,” “you know” and “like.”
Refine and Rework, Section by Section
Don’t simply give your presentation to an observer and ask for a critique at the end. Move slowly, ask the person critiquing to interrupt when changes are needed, incorporate those changes and then ask for the section to be critiqued again. Polish and refine one section before proceeding to the next.
5. Get Organized
Create an itinerary with the location and time of the event. Develop a checklist of everything you need to bring, including overhead projectors, visual aids, laser pointers, audiovisual equipment, and handouts. Plan to arrive early so that you can ensure that all equipment works and that space and lighting are set up to meet your needs.
Hours before your presentation, start refraining from caffeine and other stimulants that can increase your nervousness. Practice deep and controlled breathing to calm yourself. Take a walk. Calm nerves before your presentation help in preventing presentation fears.
7. Be Alert to Differences
Your audience might consist of many types of people who differ widely, based on culture, education, technical understanding, language, and geography. The individual differences of your audience members should be considered in your choice of words, the information you present, and your pace.
If your audience consists of non-native English speakers, consider hiring a translations service to provide interpreters and create multilingual slides and handouts. Also, try to slow your pace and stop regularly to give non-native speakers an opportunity to catch up. Be particularly conscious of blank stares and non-native English speakers in your audience who look distracted, a sign that they can’t keep up with the pace you are speaking. Be prepared to stop and ask for questions or provide explanations. Remember to respond to your audience.
Eliminating Presentation Fears
By following these steps you will create better presentations and help eliminate your presentation fears.