We’ve all been there. You have a presentation to give or a meeting to run. Panic sets in. “I’ll need to speak in front of all those people?!” Whether it’s for groups large or small, many people get varying degrees of anxiety at the thought of public speaking. It seems like some people are just naturally good at presenting. But don’t let that fool you; they have honed their skills over the years. Which means you don’t have to let your nerves get the best of you. Public speaking is a skill that anyone can develop. Here are a few tips to make sure that your presentation is a success.
Practice, Practice, Practice
It’s a cliche but it’s true. The best way to feel comfortable presenting is to be prepared. Go over your presentation several times. Engage a family member or friend whom you can practice in front of. The goal is to walk into the presentation knowing exactly what you are going to say. Because once you do present, you don’t want to read directly off the presentation. Rather, have general bullets shown and be comfortable expanding on them. If you practice thoroughly, you will know what comes next on each slide and will be ready for it. This will ground you in case there are questions from the audience or you feel you need to divert from the presentation. The more familiar you are with the material, the more comfortable you will be going off script.
Before you are scheduled to present, shake off the nerves physically. Shake out your limbs, stand up straight and stretch, yawn, smile. Loosening up your body prepares you for the talk ahead. Take deep breaths to slow down any anxiety. Get your body ready to actively present.
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When you are nervous, you naturally talk faster. It’s your body’s way of saying, “I want to get this over with as quickly as possible!” You need to slow down. A lot. Talking fast interferes with your breathing pattern. When you feel breathless, it can trigger panic reactions. You want to remain calm during your presentation so that you are effectively communicating. Talking slower may feel unusual at first, but your audience will not experience the tempo the way you do. Slowing down takes the necessary time to emphasize your point. Remember, this is the first time your audience has heard this. Talking slowly allows them to digest the information better.
Pause When Needed
It’s important to avoid filler words like um, ah or OK. It’s much more impactful to take a pause than to constantly be saying “um” between each sentence. Your audience will start getting fixated on your filler words instead of your content. Also, pauses are a great way to emphasize points. You can pause to emphasize the drama of what’s to come. Or pause after a statement to let your audience reflect on what you just said. Pausing is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great tool for any public speaker.
Connect With the Audience
By connecting with the audience, they become more engaged with you. You could start the presentation with a joke, a lighthearted story or a question. These tactics help you to establish a rapport before getting into the meat of the content. The key is to be conversational. What does that mean? Use inflection in your voice, casual movements while presenting and friendly body language. Treat the experience like you were having a conversation with one person. Make sure to maintain eye contact by scanning the crowd. Eye contact shows confidence and an interest in connecting with your audience. But make sure not to linger too long on any one person. It can turn from engaging to uncomfortable very quickly! A good rule of thumb is to look at someone for no longer than a sentence at a time.
Know Your Audience
What is the situation you are walking into? Is this a causal meeting with co-workers? Are you presenting a serious talk in front of professionals? Is this an audience pressed for time? Understanding what kind of listeners are in the room will help you tailor your presentation so the audience gets the most out of it. This knowledge will inform your choice of words, the level of detail you provide and how you organize your presentation. It’s important to understand your audience so you can adjust accordingly.
Read the Room
You shouldn’t be presenting in a vacuum. Watch your audience for feedback. Feedback does not have to be verbal. How is your audience reacting? Are you losing their attention? Do they look confused? There are cues in their body language that can help you adjust. Maybe it’s time for a break. Or maybe it’s a good time to ask if there are any questions. Understanding how your audience is reacting can help you adjust the messaging as needed. And since you practiced so much initially, you can stay flexible to the room’s changing needs!
The worst thing you can do is try to be what you think a good presenter is. You will probably come off as stiff and unapproachable. Just be yourself! Audiences respond to authenticity. A robotic speech will not get as much engagement as letting your personality shine. Your audience will find you more captivating if you are truly yourself.
Public speaking is an art that can be mastered with practice. Not everyone is a born public speaker, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sharpen your presentation skills. Follow these tips and you’ll be a proficient public speaker in no time.