Even the most experienced presenters get stage fright from time to time. But with these ten simple pointers you can ensure that your presentation is delivered the way it was intended: clear, articulate and, most importantly of all, jitter-free.
1. Dress Rehearse
Visit the presentation room with a friend or colleague and carry out a rehearsal presentation. Ask your assistant to record the session, switching seats from time to time, so that when you play the recording back, you can identify and aim to resolve any audio or visual problems your viewers might experience on the big day. It might be that some sections of the room just don’t carry light or sound well, so you can plan in advance to seat your audience accordingly. Once you know that you’ll be easily seen and heard throughout the talk, you’ll be able to focus on making sure the material itself is well up to scratch.
2. Utilise the Environment
As part of your preparation process, place a variety of subtle yet distinctive objects around the presentation room. Create a mental connotation with each object so that, should you lose your way, a simple glance around the room will jerk you back on track. Having these physical anchors in place will prove invaluable in sending those infernal nerve-gremlins scampering should they decide to tamper with your big day.
3. Know Your Stuff
From your slide sequences to your handouts and the software you’ll be using, gaining a strong familiarity with your tools and materials will minimise mid-talk fidget-time and allow you to concentrate on what’s important: your style, mannerisms and powers of articulation.
A word of warning, though: whatever you do, don’t waste time trying to learn your inter-slide discussions word for word; if you do, the chances are that your final delivery will sound forced, unnatural and, worst of all, unconvincing.
4. Break the Ice
The likelihood is that your audience will arrive for the presentation either by themselves or in small clusters. So, spend a moment with each individual or group as they come in. Not only will this help you to connect with each member of your audience on a personal level, it will also allow you a valuable insight into each guest’s personality.
Once you have that, you’ll have a better idea of what may or may not be appropriate during the talk, and be able to make last-minute adjustments; for instance, you might find that the joke you usually begin with might not be well suited to this particular audience.
5. Introductory Props
Most speakers suffer from nerves immediately before and during the opening minutes of their presentation. This is perfectly natural and, in some cases, unavoidable. After the first few minutes, the nervousness tends to subside as the presenter forgets him or herself and engages with the subject matter. That’s good news – except for the fact that the transition from Nervous Nelly to Self-Confident Speaker is often patently obvious to the audience.
By using relevant props during your opening statements, however, you will remove some of the audience’s attention from yourself and allow your inevitable stutter-time to pass unnoticed.
6. Soundtrack Serenity
Everyone has a favourite piece of music; one that soothes their nerves, inspires them to success and allows them to see the best of any given situation. Played through the hubbub of greeting and seating, the familiarity of your chosen track will do wonders for your peace of mind.
Not only that, but your choice of music will also grant your audience a valuable glimpse of your individual character, building rapport and allowing them to connect with you on a personal level during the presentation to come. With this knowledge under your belt, the jitterbugs will likely not bother coming out at all.
7. Accept the Anxiety
As previously stated, no successful presenter is immune to stage-fright. It may be easier said than done, but if you’re able to accept that anxiety is quite normal in situations of high self-expectation, you’ll be able to harness that nervous energy and use it to your advantage.
If you’ve the time, reading the autobiographies of successful, once-nervous speakers will help you to gain some humbling perspective and inspire you with the enthusiasm needed to overcome the obstacles in your path.
8. Look Good
As a speaker, you will be judged on your powers of articulation; unless you arrive blazing drunk or dressed in pyjamas, your audience is not going to mark you down based on your personal appearance. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make a big effort on presentation day – but do it for your own benefit, not theirs. If you make sure you’re looking your best, you will naturally exude the confidence needed to disguise any anxiety you may initially feel.
Take care, though, not to set yourself apart from your audience by dressing in a fashion overtly more formal than their own; by appearing only slightly more professionally dressed than the audience, you will place yourself on the same social level as them, striking up a subconscious rapport and thereby allowing you to communicate calmly and openly.
9. Research Their Interests
Remember, your nervousness may be at least partly due to a lack of self-confidence in your material. But if you know that you’re supplying the goods your listeners want, you’ll be less likely to succumb to the jitters as the big event approaches. Be ever-mindful of the fact that, just because your material is wholly riveting in your own mind, your audience may be of a different opinion altogether.
Gain some outside perspective by conducting a survey on a small group of people of a similar personal and professional demographic as those you expect to attend your talk. What would they find interesting during a presentation on your chosen topic? What would bore them to tears? Embrace their feedback and adapt your material accordingly.
10. Embrace Reality
Whether you can see it or not, the reality is that your audience consists of normal, fallible human beings who are attending your talk because they respect your experience and value your opinions; contrary to what you might think, they are most certainly not out to criticise your personal mannerisms.
Seek comfort in the fact that your audience will forgive any number of technical or oratory hiccups so long as your central messages are convincing – and do yourself a favour by remembering that your career is not going to cave and crumble just because one of your presentations did not go completely to plan. Once you realise that the worst that can happen is really not so bad at all, you’ll find your usual, confident self shining through of its own accord.
George A Dixon