Develop confidence and overcome nerves
in presentation and public speaking:
– a 12 step programme
For very many people, making a speech in public is one of the scariest things they may be called upon to do. And in the world of business, there are great numbers of highly competent professionals who are severely daunted by having to make a presentation or talk.
So here is my twelve step programme of ‘top tips’ for making this a better experience and expanding your comfort zone so that you can make a better job of it. These are of 3 types:
- developing long-term habits that are helpful in developing confidence and calmness
- taking out of the equation as many elements as possible that could go wrong
- strategies you can be prepared to use in the moment
1) Being completely organised and prepared will greatly reduce your anxiety, and also mean less things that could go wrong and put you into a tizz. For instance:
- arrive early for your presentation
- familiarise yourself with the setting
- set yourself up with everything you will need
- make sure that any technology you’re using is working
- be clear about how you may be depending upon or interacting with other people
- make individual contact with members of your audience
2) Have good access to the material which you will be presenting, so that you know what you are going to talk about, and that you have it in a structured format. Bullet point information on cards or Powerpoint is best for most people. Practice your material a lot, so that you are very familiar with it.
3) Have a positive visualisation of how things are going to go, when you think about the event in advance. All of us enact little dramas and scenarios in our heads about events in the future, and they have a powerful mental effect on how we are able to behave later. If you notice yourself visualising negatively, make a habit of consistently challenging those thoughts, asking yourself if they are accurate or realistic, and substituting a more positive scenario.
4) Prepare physically by using stretches, rotations or other exercises to relieve tension and promote relaxation throughout the body, for instance in shoulders, back or neck. When standing in front of your audience, develop the habit of having the knees softened rather than locked.
5) Using the breath positively is crucial. Positive use of breath to increase confidence and prevent nerves can be addressed:
- as a background, long-term habit
- while waiting to give your presentation
- at moments of panic during the performance
The most helpful habit to cultivate is that of slow, deep and relaxed abdominal breathing, If a mini-crisis occurs – you lose your place, someone asks you an awkward question, or you don’t know what to say next – then pause and take a breath.
6) Make eye contact with your audience. Remember that they want you to succeed and support you in doing so. Smile or look positive.
7) If you find yourself feeling physical symptoms of nervousness, try to take your attention away from these internal sensations; remember that your audience is generally unaware of most of them. Place your attention instead on that audience and what you’re giving to them.
8) Over time, when you feel nervous, try to cultivate the habit of thinking of it as a kind of energy of excitement, rather than something debilitating that you just want to get rid of.
9) Use pauses deliberately, especially if you have a habit of speaking too quickly when nervous; cultivate the habit of substituting deliberate pauses for ‘um’s and ‘er’s.
10) Anticipate things that could go wrong, and have a strategy ready to deal with each of them rather than being taken unawares.
11) Tackle anxiety about being able to handle unexpected developments by working on your ability to be in the present moment – practising improvisation is excellent for this.
12) Be yourself – let your individuality come through, rather than feeling you need to conform to some idealised stereotype. Practicing mprovisation is beneficial for this too.
Finally, remember the words of Mark Twain:
“There are two types of speaker – those that are nervous – and those that are liars!”