Henry Caplan explains what you should and shouldn’t do during your next presentation.
1. Do – Manage your nerves
Often our nerves are internalised. There is always a difference between our perception of ourselves and how others see us. Sometimes this perspective can help with nerves as well.
So seek out feedback from people you trust when practising, but during your presentation take your time and try to enjoy your moment; chances are you don’t look anywhere near as nervous as you feel.
Remember, trying to deny nerves makes them worse. You can use nerves as energy.
2. Don’t – Use filler words
Many presentations begin with ‘so… um…’ and we all have moments where a filler creeps in. They take up space and they make us look unprofessional or unprepared, even when we’re not.
Instead of saying ‘errr…’ as you move to the next point or answer a question, take your time and take a breath if you have to. Silence for a couple of seconds is more powerful than a ‘well, er, anyway…’ ever will be.
3. Do – Move your hands but not without purpose
Failing to move your hands during a presentation is a sure way of making you look stiff and nervous.
I recommend starting with a relaxed one hand over the other about at the belly button in front of you. This is hands at rest; a fixed position when we want to be still.
Next position is hands in motion. You can have quite an impact when you use your hands to illustrate a point. Then when you complete a gesture, back to hands at rest.
I am not a fan of holding a pencil, pen, notes, clicker, clasping a podium. It tends to either be distracting or deaden our energy.
The only question I ever ask around hands is… Are you moving them with purpose? A sure-fire way to know if you are moving with purpose is if a gesture has an end. If not, you’re probably fidgeting.
Can you have your hands by your side? Absolutely, as long as they are not behind your back, in your pockets, flailing around or clasping onto something for dear life.
4. Don’t – Visualise your presentation going badly
It can be very easy for some people to get caught up in thoughts of their presentation going badly, and because they become preoccupied by their own fears, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Try to focus on what you’re saying and what’s coming up next, but if you start to become self-conscious remember to take your time and find your position, and that it’s probably going better than you might fear. Resist the desire to analyse your progress whilst still giving your talk.
5. Don’t – Panic if you make a mistake
Experts make mistakes or rephrase a point in conversation and barely notice. It’s often the feelings of shame around a mistake that let us down. So slow down, breathe, say something positive to yourself, get the next thought in your head and focus on your audience.
If you need to reiterate a point you perhaps garbled or gave incorrect information for, calmly correct yourself and don’t apologise; apologising is unnecessary, wastes time, and can make you look weak.
6. Do – Humanise your audience
If you can ask a question as you set up, you are already building the relationship and establishing rapport. By humanising your audience, you can also manage nerves. Sometimes even starting a talk with a question can create a response that helps you focus outward and reduces nerves.
If you build the audience up in your mind as a room of brutal critics, and fail to recognise that they’re human and have flaws and worries of their own, you risk overloading your nerves and failing to reach out to them.
7. Don’t – Let your guard down
Especially relevant after your presentation has finished, relaxing is good but letting your guard down with a ‘thank God that’s over, I hate public speaking,’ sort of phrase won’t do anything for your professional image.
The credibility of your presentation can be severely damaged if you become too friendly with the audience or reveal things you shouldn’t afterwards.
They don’t need to know how nervous you were. Relax and remember you’re still presenting until you leave the room.
8. Do – Ask questions
The question and answer session is easily forgotten at the end of a presentation, but is vital to demonstrating your knowledge and settling any problems. Answering questions clearly can really give the audience the sense that you know what you’re talking about.
The final Q & A is important, but it’s also good to ask questions throughout the presentation. This keeps the audience engaged and can be a useful tool if you forget anything or need a moment to find your place.
9. Do – Enjoy it
It’s a tough call for many people who dread giving presentations, but try to enjoy it! You’ve got a room full of people listening to you!
If you are too nervous or can’t enjoy it, try to learn from it, and just think – next time you’ll be a little bit better.
With thanks to Henry Caplan, an Interpersonal Skills Consultant at Working Voices