Let’s get one thing clear: everybody is afraid of public speaking – whether it’s Barack Obama giving his fifth public address of the day, or a college student presenting to ten of her classmates. Standing up in front of a group of people is always a high-pressure ask. Public speakers never truly overcome that initial shock and awe moment where they realise all eyes are on them – and they could be about to muck it all up.
And nor should they! The adrenaline that these situations spark can be enough to make us perform brilliantly, and really have an impact. But for some, the pressure is too much and its effects on our minds and bodies dwarfs all of the prep we’ve put into our presentations. If your hard work turns into mumbles, “ums”, and “ahs” as soon as you get on stage, this post is for you.
Do you find yourself racing through your slides because all you can think about is getting away from the situation? Does your sweat begin to run at the mere thought of speaking in front of more than two other people? Here are three tips for beating the pressure. No matter how you’re feeling, you can wrestle your nerves into submission and give a really effective speech or presentation.
1. What are you afraid of?
Something strange happens when we make the transition from audience member to speaker. As audience members, we know that we’re generally rooting for the person on stage to do well. But as soon as we’re the person getting on stage, the audience becomes a sadistic beast who’s rooting for us to fall flat on our faces so they can have a good laugh at us.
If there are people you know in the audience, concentrate on them as you’re beginning your presentation. You know that they want you to succeed – you might even be able to see them looking at you, silently rooting for everything to go smoothly.
And remember that however you feel, the rest of the audience is probably just as eager for you to give a great presentation.
2. Practice makes perfect
Presentations are stress inducing because there are so many things out of our control. We can’t make sure the projector will work, tell in advance whether we’ll be able to remember everything we planned to say, prevent a phone going off or the audience being rude.
Concentrate on the things you can control – making sure you know your material inside out, and your slides are great. This will stop you dwelling on all of the things which could go wrong, and help you to recover if something unexpected does happen.
The better you know your material, the more flexible you can be when you’re on stage. That means that there aren’t many disasters you won’t be able to recover from.
Don’t rehearse your movements and gestures – rehearse your content, and let your movement come naturally on the day.
The only reason seasoned presenters tend to be somewhat less nervous than first timers is because they have experienced the routine more times. They know what to expect, are confident they can recover if something goes wrong, and their experience tells them that these things tend to turn out okay.
If you can’t rely upon your experiences to assure you that presentations usually go better than expected, try visualising yourself doing the presentation, and having a positive outcome. Visualisation is a really powerful tool for helping to reduce the pressure of a situation, because by the time you stand up to speak you will feel more prepared.
If you can, actually rehearse your presentation in the place where you will give it – this will help you to really visualise how it will look and feel when you’re presenting.
Overcoming nervousness on stage is about taking as much pressure off of your shoulders as you can. Get used to standing up when you give your speech, and visualise the presentation beforehand – this will make it feel more natural. Remember that everybody wants you to succeed. At the very least they will respect you for standing up and trying.