Tomorrow’s the day and you’re dreading it. You’re scheduled to give a presentation to the senior management team about the new program you’re proposing. You’re excited and enthusiastic about the program but nervous and anxious about the presentation. You don’t know how you’ll manage to sleep tonight. These thoughts keep running through your mind; What if I stumble? What if I talk too fast? What if they get bored? What if they ask questions and my mind goes blank?
Do any of these sound familiar? If you answered yes, don’t worry! Try some of these simple strategies for your next presentation to help you build confidence and credibility with your audiences.
Developing Your Presentation
Change the paradigm: Think from your listeners’ perspective. If you can change your focus from, "What do I want to communicate?" to "What does the audience need to hear and understand?" you can be a more relevant and engaging presenter. By focusing on your listeners’ needs, rather than on yourself, you can relax and let that focus guide you through the development and delivery of your presentation.
Here are the essential questions that will help you stay on track:
- Who is your audience?
- What is most important to them?
- What is their current level of knowledge relative to your topic?
- What do they want or need to know about this topic?
If you can’t answer the above questions, it’s important that you do some research to find the answers. If your presentation is an educational or training session, you might want to send out a pre-class questionnaire or survey to learn the current knowledge level of your audience. This can be a simple 5- to 10-question, one-page document that you email or fax. If your presentation is more informational or persuasive, you might want to make some phone calls to learn what you can about your audience.
What’s your objective? Every presentation you give should have an objective or purpose. Why? Because your objective will help ensure that you stay focused on the topic. And, by defining your objective in the beginning of the development process, you’ll save time.
Structure. Utilize a presentation structure that consists of a beginning, middle and end. In presentation language these components are called the opening, body and close. The purpose of the opening is to introduce yourself and your topic. The opening gives a short preview of the information you plan to cover. You may also want to include some startling data or a quotation. The main purpose of the opening is to get your audiences’ attention. The body of the presentation contains the main ideas and details you want to convey. The close is the ending. During the close, you may wish to provide a summary of your main points to help the audience remember them. Also, any action items or follow-up information should be in the close.
Delivering Your Presentation
About nervousness. Most people feel nervous and anxious before giving a presentation. This fear and anxiety can start the minute you are given the assignment and last until the presentation is over. It’s important that you accept the fact that you are going to be nervous and learn how to work with it. Try this three-step process developed by Lee Glickstein of Speaking Circles International to ease your nerves:
- Breathe. And, most importantly, notice that you are breathing. Most of us when we are nervous or anxious tend to hold our breath and that only makes us feel worse.
- Speak every word to the eyes and heart of another human being. Every time you stand in front of any audience, you are building a relationship. If you want people to listen and pay attention to you, you have to listen and pay attention to them. By having a more personal connection with your audience you will develop rapport faster. By looking at people individually, not seeing a group, you can be more relaxed and at ease. Try to have a one-on-one conversation with everyone in the room.
Five Strategies to Project Confidence
1. Reduce your usage of filler words.
Filler words are words that we say unconsciously that add no meaning to our communications. Examples of filler words are um, ah, okay, so, you know, well, but and like. The big problem with filler words is that, if you use them frequently, they tend to chip away at your credibility and can make you sound unsure and unprepared. To start reducing usage, you first have to become aware of when and how frequently you use them. The best way to do this is to either audiotape or videotape yourself giving a presentation. Then listen or, better yet, have someone else listen to the tape for filler words. Provide a checklist of filler words and ask the reviewer to count how many you use. It’s fine to use one here and there—using them repeatedly is the problem. Once you have an awareness of which filler words you use, you can start trying to reduce them. Substitute a pause where the filler words would normally occur and your listeners will thank you.
2. Be aware of body language and posture.
Just as mother used to say, stand up straight. Posture is important. Walk with erect posture and confident strides. Cultivate awareness of your body language. Show confidence with an open body position. This means hands at your sides not crossed in front of you or hidden in pockets. Keep your hands where the audience can see them and use gestures for emphasis.
3. Remember that you are the expert.
You probably know more than your audience does about your topic. That puts you at an advantage and should instill confidence. Remember, though, to be relevant. You need to know your audience’s level of knowledge of your topic so you can start where they are.
4. Keep your cool when things get hot.
No matter what happens, maintain your composure. If you are using technology, be warned: It is bound to malfunction just when you need it most. For peace of mind, have a Plan B ready just in case. If you can think in advance about what might go wrong, and have a contingency plan ready, you can continue and keep your cool. Every presenter has a personal horror story of how the laptop or projector crashed in the middle of their presentation. Be prepared.
5. Have a good time.
If you are having a good time, chances are, so is your audience. Put a smile on your face and be excited and enthusiastic in your delivery. You will breathe life into your subject (even if it's normally dull) and help your listeners become engaged in your talk.
I hope you’ll practice some of the strategies listed here. Don’t feel that you have to do all of them during your next presentation. You might want to think about what your biggest presentation challenge is and pick one improvement that you’d like to make. I can guarantee that you’ll feel more confident as you incorporate and practice these suggestions. And remember: Do what you can to enjoy your time at the front of the room and your audiences will enjoy you.
About the Author
Dana Bristol-Smith is the founder of Speak for Success, an organization that works with companies that want their people to communicate with confidence and credibility. She is a professional speaker and trainer who has survived stage fright and is passionate about helping others get past the fear and discomfort of public speaking. Companies hire Dana to give skill-building workshops and to provide coaching. Dana has delivered presentations and training to more than 100,000 people since 1992. In addition to her corporate work with global companies such as Honeywell and Pfizer, Dana is on the faculties of University of California at San Diego Extension, California State University San Marcos and San Diego State University.
You can reach Dana via email at: