Public speaking is usually near the top of people’s list of fears. The reality is that most people would rather be sick in bed with the flu than be in front of a group of people presenting. It’s very much out of their comfort zones. But why is dealing with nervousness such an issue?
People are mostly afraid of looking foolish – they don’t want to give the impression that they don’t know what they’re talking about. That fear can lead to nervousness, which triggers a physical response. You may have felt it before: you’ve been anxious for the whole week, and as you walk into the room to present, your body responds – dry throat, shaky hands and knees, etc. You then become so focused on the fact that you’re nervous that you literally panic, and all of your preparation goes out the window.
If that scenario gives you a pit in your stomach, don’t worry: you are more than capable of dealing with nervousness. You may not get to a place where public speaking is your favorite thing to do, but you can certainly get to a place where you are comfortable with the preparation process and the approach to it so that you can be effective.
And, it’s important to remember: you’re not alone. Even high-performing athletes must focus on dealing with nervousness before big games – in fact, some of them channel their pregame nerves into energy on the field. Public speaking is a performance, too. With enough practice, you can learn to deal with your pre-speech jitters and turn in a winning performance.
With that, here are some “do’s” and definitely “don’ts” for you to know before your next presentation, to help you with dealing with nervousness.
Don’t take a tranquilizer or anxiety pills before going on stage.
You may or may not be surprised to hear that taking some form of tranquilizer before a presentation is not at all uncommon – but that doesn’t mean that it’s wise. It might help you feel less nervous, but you’ll lose the passion you bring to the presentation. The last thing you want once you’re in front of a large crowd of people is to look like you’re about to fall asleep.
Don’t drink alcohol before your presentation.
Again, this may sound obvious, but this does happen and it doesn’t help you as much as some people may tell you. If you knock back a couple of drinks before your presentation, you might feel completely comfortable and think you’re doing a great job. What’s really happened is this: alcohol has eliminated your filter. The chances are much higher that you could end up saying something you’ll regret later. Remember, this is a performance and you must have all of your wits about you.
Don’t picture anyone in their underwear.
Chances are, you’ve heard someone at some point in your life tell you that to prevent nervousness on stage, you should picture everyone in their underwear. This is a horrible idea in any profession – it’s distracting, and even demeaning to your audience. Most likely, you are in a room with like-minded people who you have ideally done some research on prior to your presentation. Instead of picturing your audience in their underwear, you want to picture them as human beings who have a need for the information you are there to share.
Don’t cram for the QA the night before your presentation.
You might be afraid you’ll get a question you don’t know the answer to, but you shouldn’t spend the night before your presentation studying like you would before a college exam. This most often happens when you’re presenting to your supervisors, because you’re afraid that you’re going to get questions you don’t know the answers to and you’ll wind up looking foolish.
Cramming isn’t the answer, though – and it’ll just leave you more stressed and nervous. Instead, go into presentations expecting to get questions you don’t know the answers to – just take that fear off the table. When you do get a question you aren’t sure about, use the bridging technique. For example, if someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, say “I don’t know the answer to that, but I can tell you …,” and bridge back to what you’re confident in. There is no shame in telling someone that you’ll work on getting him or her an accurate answer to a question you can’t answer immediately. That transparency will increase your credibility.
Don’t walk into a presentation hungry.
Sometimes people will be so nervous before a presentation that they won’t want to eat. Make sure to eat something – a protein bar, yogurt, a snack – so that you won’t feel lightheaded while you’re speaking. This is especially important if you’ll be presenting at a luncheon, where others may have the chance to eat during your presentation, but time hasn’t been allotted for your meal.
Don’t use a teleprompter if you’ve never used one before.
What many people don’t realize is that, if you’ve never used a teleprompter, it isn’t something you can nail right away. It requires a skill. You have to practice it to do well. You can be well respected and articulate, but if you’re using a teleprompter for the first time, it can be distracting to your credibility. If you know teleprompting will be available, make sure to practice with one before your presentation.
Don’t memorize your presentation.
That puts too much pressure on you. Once the nerves kick in, there’s a good chance you’re going to miss a point inyour presentation, which will throw you and the presentation into disarray. Instead of memorizing word for word, study your presentation, learn the highlights, and don’t be afraid to use notecards.
Don’t forget you’re not alone.
There’s a good chance that anyone in front of you during your presentation has had to speak in front of an audience before – and they’ve all had stage fright in some way. Keep that in mind when you’re giving your presentation. Everyone gets nervous. You’re not alone.
Do expect to be nervous.
Don’t be caught off guard. Remember, nervousness can be a physical reaction. Understand what happens to your body when you become nervous, and prepare to counteract it. Even preparing for it can help to eliminate some of that anxiety.
Do prepare to meet the goals of the presentation
Go back to the four questions you ask before any critical communication – Who is your audience and what matters to them? What is my goal? What message will have impact? How much time do I have? The better you can understand what you’re attempting to communicate, the better you’ll be able to succeed.
Do focus on your passion for your message.
One of the best antidotes for nervousness is a genuine passion for your message. If you’re excited about the information you’ll be presenting, you’ll find you have less room for focusing on your nervousness. And your passion will make your presentation much more engaging.
Do know the room.
This is especially important if you’re speaking at a large conference. If you’re doing a presentation off-site, see if you can get a picture of the room beforehand. It can help you with your preparations. Knowing the size of the room, how people will be sitting, and whether you’ll be on a stage or at a podium can help you get a feel for what the presentation will be like.
Do practice your presentation.
You’ll want to practice your entire presentation, out loud, at least three times. If it’s brand new information and a make-or-break presentation, you’ll want to create a script and practice that script. Afterwards, you can narrow it down to bullet points. You don’t want to read the script to your audience, and you definitely don’t want to read it off of a PowerPoint slide.
Do dress the part.
It’s important to look your best. It’s also important to wear clothing and shoes that are comfortable. Remember, a blazer or jacket can add authority for men and for women.
Do make eye contact.
Sometimes people will tell you to look for an object above the audience and keep your focus there, but that’s not going to make you appear as engaged as you should be. Making eye contact with the audience allows them to feel connected to you and what you’re saying. Looking at the clock in the back of the room makes you appear like you’re longing for the presentation to end.
Do get training or coaching.
Whether you present regularly to large crowds or need the confidence to present information clearly to your team, the ability to manage your nervousness is essential. To that end, it’s important to have communication training and coaching. At The Ammerman Experience, we teach skills. Once learned, skills work all the time, for everyone, under any circumstance.
You may not be able to completely eliminate your nervousness. But, like a high-performing athlete who gets nervous before a game but thrives once the competition starts, you can learn to perform through your nervousness – and even channel it to your advantage.
The more you practice the skills, the better you’ll get at dealing with nervousness.
Contact us today to find out how The Ammerman Experience can help you.