The moment you have been dreading has arrived – you have to deliver a critical presentation to your audience. Your palms are sweaty; your stomach is in knots and the spotlight seems unforgiving!
“I think it's healthy for a person to be nervous. It means you care - that you work hard and want to give a great performance. You just have to channel that nervous energy into the show.” Beyonce Knowles
What is it about the prospect of standing up and presenting in front of an audience that causes so much nervousness? Are we afraid of making a mistake, of looking foolish, or of losing face? One study revealed that an alarmingly high number of people (about 85%) confessed to glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. Honestly, there is a higher chance that the rest of them (remaining 15%) are not exhibiting their inner apprehensions about public speaking. Almost everyone experiences a rush of fear and a consequent adrenaline surge at the prospect of delivering presentations, which is akin to public speaking. Delivering presentations is inherently frightening because it involves the risk of exposure of self in front of others. This is one of our most primal and deep-seated fears. It makes us vulnerable and subject to judgment. The irony, however, is that delivering a presentation is not like having a surgery, yet there is so much discomfort that at times we would rather have that unnecessary surgery.
Rationalizing your presentation delivery nervousness:
The key difference between successful presenters and inexperienced presenters is not that they do not feel nervous, but that they do not look nervous. The trick here is not to vanquish the nervousness, but to “get all those butterflies flying in right formation”. Despite the butterflies-in-the-stomach sensation, successful presenters take basic but powerful steps to achieve the ‘you don’t look nervous’ status.
“The key difference between successful presenters and inexperienced presenters is not that they do not feel nervous, but that they do not look nervous. They consciously rationalize and transform their fears into confidence – a quality that when infused, makes presentations successful.”
Nowhere does the little voice at the back of your head yell as loud as when you anticipate delivering a presentation in front of your audience. You may hear your little voice scream, “I don’t think I can do this,” or “I can’t show I’m nervous,” or “I will forget my lines,” or “What if the projector stops working midway,” or “They will not like me,” or “What if they ask difficult questions which I can’t answer,” or “……” (fill in the blanks for yourself). Whatever be the shout of your little voice, on careful consideration you will see that it can be rationalized under four categories: nervousness related to content, nervousness related to audience, nervousness related to one’s ability and nervousness related to resources. Whatever the little voice screams can be rationalized and whatever can be rationalized can indeed be managed.
How to prepare for a presentation?
Here are some proven ways you can use to deflect and manage your presentation delivery nervousness:
Successful presenters have a clear sense of the purpose of their presentation. They also know the impact expected because of their talk. Hence, they stay in constant touch with their material. If a question or comment from the audience sidetracks them, they quickly regain the sequence of their presentation to meet the set objective. You too can manage content related nervousness by knowing the objective of your presentation and the relevance of the information you ought to present. Verbalizing the notes and fervently rehearsing the slides will acquaint you with the required adequacy, depth, length and coherence of the message. Once you are familiar with the structure and accompanying visuals, you can organize the flow in your mind as acronyms, mnemonics or a form that supports your memory. Practice with cues and rely on them to bail you out in times of need.
Successful presenters do a thorough homework about their audience. They know that no audience is dumb. If the audience does not get it then it is because the presentation was not prepared or delivered well for their comprehension and appeal. Hence, successful presenters deliberately analyze specifics of their audience to know them better before walking into the presentation room to engage with them. You too can manage audience related nervousness by getting to know them during your presentation preparation phase. List them and create their persona to comprehend their nature, preferences, concerns and needs. Choose questions, examples, stories and other books that are best suited to engage this type of audience. On the other hand, audiences connect well with presenters who make them feel safe and happy. So stay humble, respect them, identify with their cause, match their commitments and above all treat them as your ally. Remember, they are there to see you succeed in making their time worthwhile.
- Your own mind:
Successful presenters appear comfortable with their sense of being and themselves (their bodies, their gestures, their voice etc.). They know they are delivering the presentation because they are the right person for that job. Hence, they train their mind and body to think and act positive. You too can manage self-doubts by monitoring and reframing your inner thoughts. Replace self-deprecating thoughts with positive (but real) affirmations such as ‘I-can-do-it-too’ and, ‘yes I can and will’. Visualize yourself in the room making a winning presentation to your audience. This visualization can help you take that leap of faith you always needed. Remember, a presenter who is never at a loss for words, speaks with impeccable articulation and always has a brilliant answer for every question, does not exist. We are humans who make mistakes – and so are presenters. So, build your expertise for the presentation but also learn to flow with the flow and fall with fall. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it, learn from it, become wiser and move on. Remember, presentation must go on!
Successful presenters stay agile when it comes to resources. They know that, this is an area where if anything can go wrong, it sure will. This in turn can undermine the confidence they have worked hard to develop. Hence, they intentionally learn extra skills with the resources at hand to make their presentation memorable. You too can manage nervousness arising from resource and logistical glitches. Today’s media is more sophisticated than ever, so be prepared with eventuality and keep Plan ‘B’ handy. Arrive at the presentation site an hour early to familiarize yourself with the room set up and the range of audiovisuals, TV, Whiteboard, Projector etc. available and to see how your presentation can be set up. Keep the coordinates of the facilities manager handy, just in case something goes wrong. It is wise to carry extra resources such as audio speakers for your audio clips, markers, microphones, slideware clickers and handouts to serve if the projector fails.
"When you are confident about your presentation, your audience feels confident about you!”
Confidence, enthusiasm, and conviction are the chief qualities an audience looks for when you stand up to deliver a presentation. When you manage your presentation delivery fears, you don’t look nervous anymore. This, in turn, enables your audience to concentrate on your message and participate with you as you deliver your presentation adroitly.
Because, when you are confident about your presentation, your audience feels confident about you!