Public speaking often appears at the top of ‘worst fears’ surveys. Public speaking, spiders, heights, snakes are all things that can cause us anxiety and to break into a nervous sweat. It may seem odd that public speaking appears so high, as unlike a poisonous reptile or falling from a tall building, delivering a work presentation has not ever, I believe, actually killed someone. (please correct me if I am wrong in the comments below).According to Psychology Today, the fear of public speaking comes from somewhere deep inside our reptilian brain and is linked to fear of attack and fear of social ostracism. So, when your voice breaks and your mind goes blank, don’t worry, it is a natural reaction and your brain’s way of telling you to stop making yourself so visible and get back amongst the pack where you are safe.
Despite being a normal response, this is not a helpful response. When you have 20 sets of eyes on you waiting for you to deliver your engaging, knowledgeable presentation you need to get those nerves under control and deliver a winning presentation that would make Jerry Maguire proud.
Follow these 7 tips to increase your confidence and control your nerves:
1. Visualise the successful outcome of your presentation
Alex Honnold climbed Yosemite’s El Capitan – a 2300m vertical monstrosity in California – with no ropes, in one of the most daring freestyle rock climbs in recent times. When asked about how he did it, Alex said he visualised every move, every position and reaching the top for hours each day in his training for the climb. Visualisation creates pathways in your brain so when it comes to the main event your brain already knows what to do and can go into a semi-auto pilot. Visualise yourself on the stage, visualise you delivering the lines and the audience listening intently, visualise the funny joke you make and everyone laughing, visualise your smiling and relaxed posture as you deliver a winning presentation. Always visualise outstanding success and nothing less.
2. Remove negative thoughts
You go to deliver a presentation. You start thinking, “I can’t do this, I don’t know the content well enough, my boss is staring at me, I am going to mess up.” You start to sweat, your mouth goes dry and you forget the words. Now your boss is really staring at you, you knew you couldn’t do this, you fumble through the rest of the presentation, take your seat and hang your head in shame.
Does this sound familiar? A spiral of negative thoughts and behaviours ending in an unimpressive delivery. The problem is that when we have negative thoughts this leads to poor delivery which leads to more negative thoughts. The only way to stop the spiral is by removing the negative thoughts and replacing them with positive thoughts. Focus on the things you know, focus on why you have been asked to speak and think about how well the presentation is going to go. What you think you will become.
3. Meet attendees beforehand
Before the presentation you want to get into a relaxed state, this means not frantically going over your presentation again and again. Introduce yourself to the attendees, make light conversation and get comfortable. It is important that you don’t talk too much about the presentation, their expectations from the presentation or their background/experience on the topic you are going to talk about. This could throw you off if you uncover an unexpected need or someone who is very experienced. (Note, this applies if you are someone who gets anxious before a presentation, if you don’t then you can probably go ahead and talk about these topics!)
4. Focus on the first words
Before the presentation don’t try to remember every bit of content you are delivering. This will cause you to stress and panic! Hopefully you have practised the presentation enough and built your slides in way that will help you to deliver great content. Just before the presentation focus only on the first words you will deliver. Clear your head of everything else. Once you deliver those first words, the rest of the content should flow naturally.
5. Focus on strangers in the audience
During your presentation it is important you make eye contact with the whole audience. This doesn’t mean darting your eyes around every person, it does mean picking a few spots – at the front and back and either side of the room to alternate your gaze between. Studies have shown that when there are people in the audience that are close to the presenter (like a family member or your boss) the presenter is more likely to make mistakes. So, if there is someone you know in the audience avoid making direct eye contact with them, instead focus on the friendly, smiling and unknown faces that you can see.
6. Stand tall and smile
We know that our emotions impact our body language, when we are sad, we don’t smile, when we are nervous, we put our head down and don’t make eye contact; studies also show that our body language can affect our emotions. So, if you are feeling nervous, check your body language. Stand tall, put your shoulders back and put a big smile on your face. The confident body language will send a signal to your brain that you are in fact confident. And the positive responses you get from the audience will create a positive reinforcement loop. Basically, fake it until you make it.
7. Base confidence on doing your best
How do you get to be confident about something? For most people in most circumstances they gage the scope of a task, make an estimation of their skill level for that task and then decide if they are confident or not. The problem with this is that the only way to get more confidence is to either lie to yourself or actually get better at the task (and this takes time!) We want to have more confidence right now! So instead of basing your confidence on your absolute ability to do a task well, base confidence on you doing your best. All we can ever do is our best. So, if you do your best, there is no way you could have done any better! It doesn’t mean you will deliver a perfect presentation, and you might do better in six months’ time. But right now, with the knowledge, skills and experience you have you can only do you best. So be confident knowing that you may not be perfect, but you gave it your best shot!
For more on delivering impactful presentations check these links: