The surprise of being asked to say a few words can shock anyone into speechless fright for a moment. You could be asked to speak at any business meeting, to give your point of view or describe a new product. Practise a few short openings, learn a few details (such as statistics) to give your points emphasis, and a strong conclusion. G. B. Shaw’s advice to “stand up, speak up and shut up” contains the key; keep it brief.
Do not underestimate the importance of suitable clothing and a well-groomed appearance. It shows you respect your audience, your company and yourself. The audience will be distracted by anything unusual. The best rule is to select good quality business clothes. Suits should be made of dark materials without strong patterns, and shirts or blouses should be formal.
Avoid anything flashy or brightly coloured, and ensure that shoes shine and hair is well cut.
Many people pay more attention to the quality of another person’s shoes and accessories than anything else. Practice your final rehearsal in the clothes you will wear on the day. If you are confident about your appearance, that will be projected to the audience making the presentation easier.
Having carefully prepared your presentation and rehearsed thoroughly, the following points will go a long way to helping you over the worst stages of nervousness. The increased energy you feel as your confidence grows will make all the preparation worthwhile.
• Believe in yourself.
• Believe in the audience’s goodwill towards you.
• Believe in what you are saying.
• Don’t take yourself too seriously.
• Know the opening by heart.
• Don’t be too ambitious.
• Practice deep breathing.
• Practice the ‘as if’ theory.
Believe in yourself
Even if you don’t feel confident, do everything to project the authority that you really have (particularly after all that work!). You are the one in charge and you probably know more than your audience about your subject. Never take a negative viewpoint or apologise. Such thoughts show in body language without you realising how clear they are to others.
Believe in the audience’s goodwill towards you
The audience wants you to succeed. Show your interest in them with eye contact and a smile. Such simple gestures will work well in the delicate first stages of your relationship with an audience. At a medium-sized presentation, facial expression can be read almost as clearly as a face on television. The more friendly your expression, the better.
Believe in what you are saying
The more committed you are to the subject, the less time you will spend thinking about your personal involvement. When you have prepared thoroughly and rehearsed to a well co-ordinated level, the confidence of knowing that will be enough to conquer your nervousness.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
Some of the most successful presenters aim for a degree of informality and quick pace. This can mean the odd mistake on the way, but the lively delivery keeps the audience alert. As long as the information is interesting, nobody minds the occasional slip. Don’t expect to give a flawless performance. It’s not a matter of life and death. Relax and enjoy the experience!
Know the opening by heart
This will be the hardest part, so make things as easy as possible for yourself by knowing those opening words off by heart. Take your time, move slowly, and remember the eye contact and smile before you speak. Those first few seconds can gain you an extra helping of goodwill and attention.
Don’t be too ambitious
Keep your plans simple for the first few presentations. Focus on the most important points and resist the temptation to lengthen the delivery, even if it is going well. A good presentation can be ruined by an inconclusive fade-out at the end. Stick to your plan and conclude powerfully! Your last words will linger in their minds.
Practice deep breathing
Nervous tension is part of the body’s alert system, warning us, and at the same time supplying extra resources. It is as though the body knows and reacts before we do, pushing us to move quickly to deal with an urgent crisis. Do not view this negatively as it can help to achieve the goal of a first-rate presentation. Deep breathing and deliberately slowing down, putting first things first, is a way to control this heightened alertness. Manage the flow of adrenaline correctly and you will have the right balance for a lively but authoritative presentation.
Practice the ‘as if’ theory
Thoughts and emotions produce action. If you are afraid, you will probably run away. The interesting part, is that the reverse is also true. If you smile, you will feel happier. Look fearless, and you will feel fearless. Behave ‘as if’ you are confident and you will feel more confident. It really works.
Dr Brian Monger is Executive Director of MAANZ International and an internationally known consultant with over 45 years of experience assisting both large and small companies with their projects. He is also a highly effective and experienced trainer and educator
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