No matter how long you’ve been doing public presentations you likely still get that sick feeling in your stomach just before walking on stage. Public speaking anxiety is incredibly common. Although most of us struggle with it at least to some degree, there are tried and true techniques you can teach yourself that can make a big difference in your level of ease on stage.
Whether you’re giving a talk at TNNA or preparing to teach at Craftcation, use these six tips to calm your nerves and help you give a stellar presentation. (Are you putting together a PowerPoint deck? Don’t miss our 6 tips for creating great slides.)
Prepare Your Content
Take a look at your speaking agreement so you know exactly what you’ve promised to discuss. Invest time in researching your subject to ensure you’re accurate and to discover any new-to-you nuances about the topic.
Once you’re confident about your content, consider the presentation’s purpose (To educate? To inform? To motivate?) to help you figure out how to structure your presentation. It’s important, too, to identify who your primary audience will be, which allows you to decide what they need to know and any jargon that you should define.
Create a Robust Outline
Some folks like to write out their entire presentation, which is fine as a way to develop your ideas. Avoid trying to memorize it verbatim, though, as you might find yourself stuck if you forget part of it. It’s also risky to plan to read your presentation as doing so can make it harder to connect with the audience.
I prefer to work from a robust outline. Try recording what you plan to say and use it to draft an outline.
The most effective speakers present extemporaneously–they’ve prepared their talk in advance, and speak without notes. If there are statistics or other data that you’re worried about memorizing, put that info on a small index card that you can glance at if necessary. In fact, index cards can be used as a sort of outline.
Write each sub-topic that you’re covering on its own index card, and then include any phrases or data that will remind you of your content. Be sure to number your index cards if you use this tool. Chances are, though, that by the time you’ve researched and developed your presentation, you’ll be familiar enough with the content that you won’t need index cards.
Record Yourself Rehearsing
One of the best ways to build your confidence ahead of time is to rehearse multiple times. One of my colleagues uses her commute to rehearse. When my students have a presentation due, I record a rehearsal to allow them to see and hear any quirks they should correct. It can be uncomfortable to watch a recording of yourself, but it is enlightening.
Finally, it’s helpful to anticipate questions your audience may have and prepare answers. I do this by reviewing my presentation with a friend and asking them to jot down any questions that arise.
Check Out Your Space
Not only is it professional to arrive early enough to scope out the presentation space, it’s also calming. What to do once you get there?
- Test equipment. If the venue has an a/v person, check in with them about any concerns you have about the projector, mic, or other equipment.
- Test your presentation software.
- Set up your space. Lay out samples if you have them. Place handouts at each seat. I like to have a pen, paper, and a glass of water at the lectern or table when I’m speaking.
- Walk the room. Get a sense of the space. See what the view from the back of the room is like.
- If you are working without a mic, practice a little so you know how much to project your voice.
Try These Tricks Prior to Presenting
A few ways to calm your nerves before your audience arrives include:
- Take some power poses. Wonder Woman is my favorite. Take a look at Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on power poses.
- Try deep breathing: inhale slowly through your nose, relaxing your shoulders down and exhale through your mouth with your lips slightly pursed and your jaw relaxed.
- Spend a few moments using tapping or reverse the spinning techniques. Business and life coach and hypnotherapist Simone Grace Soel has some excellent videos to teach this. (Check out this one on spinning and this one on tapping.)
Keep These Tricks In Mind As You Present
The beauty of an in-person presentation is the opportunity to connect with your audience. Here are some ideas:
- Chat with audience members as they arrive. Ask how they’re enjoying the trade show or what other classes they’re taking.
- Start your presentation by taking a show-of-hands survey related to your subject.
- Make eye contact with individuals in different parts of the room.
- Be sincerely yourself–the audience has chosen to be in the room with you because they are interested in your topic, your expertise,…and you.
- Speak at a slower pace than you would in conversation. It’s tempting to speed up to fit everything in, but if you’ve rehearsed, your timing will be fine. Speaking slowly helps the audience process what you’re saying.
Remember: you’ve been asked to speak because you are an expert. Rehearse, try out relaxation techniques, and bring your passion to the room, and you’ll be on your way to an excellent presentation.
Beverly Army Williams is a writer and writing teacher, teaching creative writing, composition, grant writing, and business and technical writing at Westfield State University. Her writing has appeared in Knitty.com, Interweave Crochet, Dandelion Review, and Project 333 among other places, and she co-edits the webzine MotherShould.com. Beverly works as a ghost writer and writing consultant for makers and creative writers. She has been co-teaching nationally with Gale Zucker about the partnership of beautiful words and dynamic images since 2013. Beverly’s website is www.beverlyarmywilliams.com.