Overcome your fear of presenting
The pressure is on, the presentation day is fast approaching, and a lot depends on how you come across. Feeling the pressure yet? If so, we’ll help you overcome your fear of presenting.
Performance anxiety, or stage fright, is just as real a concern for presenters as it is for theatre actors and singers. In fact, standing up to publicly speak and communicate your own ideas – not those written by a script-writer – can be even more nerve-wrecking.
Even the greatest and most experienced of speakers feel that way from time to time. So, we’ve attempted to create a post that will help you better understand the reason for that fear and highlight ways in which you can combat it and overcome your fear of presenting.
First of all, you need to stop and remember this…
Your audience isn’t putting pressure on you, you are.
In fact, if you mange to get your audience on side, they will actively encourage you and want you to succeed. Watch this speech by Oprah Winfrey and see how, by recalling a sad moment from her childhood, she enables the audience to relate to her, empathise with her, and, ultimately, root for her.
So, with that in mind, you really need to… and we’re sorry we’re about to say this… relax. We know; that’s awful advice, isn’t it?
Who has ever actually managed to relax when someone tells them to relax? It can’t be done, and can actually cause even more stress. But that is a piece of advice that you need to give to yourself, and ideally a long time before you step up on stage. It’s the way to overcome your fear of presenting.
Truth is, the most relaxed and confident of people are also the healthiest and best rested. Keeping your cool in a high-pressure environment is a lot easier when your body isn’t choked with caffeine or functioning on two hours sleep each night. Just like an athlete preparing to win a race, you need to prepare your body for the sports-like physical task of presenting.
Eat healthily, exercise often, and try something like yoga or meditation to help clear your mind and reduce stress. Stress is a killer, and presentations can be stressful. Do it for yourself and your desire to overcome your fear of presenting.
An easy way to start down a healthier, less stressed road, is to…
- Limit your caffeine intake
- Drink less alcohol
- Lower the amount of sugar you take in
- Get a good night’s sleep each night
We’re not advocating that you become a pious, well-rested monk – just to recognise the link between a healthy body and a healthy mind. And a healthy mind can cope better in stressful situations.
Confidence kills fear
The fear of presenting is actually a fear of failure. We all run through the possibilities of what could go wrong (especially when we really need everything to go right) and that might lead to a greater feeling of stress.
Therefore, use the control the presentation affords you as a kind of confidence boost. If you’ve managed to keep healthy, and to rehearse your presentation over and over again, you can start to communicate that confidence to your audience. We’re not suggesting you run into the room, pumping your fists like Tony Robbins, and whooping at the top of your lungs. God no.
Instead, you should try…
- Greeting people as they enter the room and engage with them.
- If you’re presenting to strangers, talk to them to get an idea of what they want and need; it might flavour your following presentation.
- If the audience is mostly colleagues, chat informally with them as normal to put them at ease.
One key point there is talking to your potential clients or customers before you start the presentation. Something we’re big on at Future Present is creating PowerPoint presentations that are interactive. They allow the user to leap from one section to another, without having to awkwardly flick through dozens of slides. That feature is called Zoom, and we wrote about it here.
Getting a feel for what your audience wants means you can tailor the presentation to them, jumping to the section that is most relevant right away. Knowing you’re able to deliver to them what they want, will help combat your fears of failure.
On your feet, soldier!
People are more likely to trust someone who seems happy and sure of what they are saying. That will mostly come from a genuine sense of passion and enthusiasm for the subject. However, the way in which you do something as simple as stand makes a huge difference.
No, merely rehearsing your presentation in your head is not good enough. An effective presentation can’t exist there, not when so much of what we communicate is done with our bodies. Just thinking through your performance is not good enough and will not help in overcoming your fear of presenting.
When rehearsing, stand up, as you will be doing on the day, and get your body involved. Use your arms, be animated, and be honest. By rehearsing on your feet you’ll discover what parts of the presentation need some physicality and movement to better express your ideas. That will improve your performance confidence in general, as you’ll trust your body to do what you need it to do.
Keep your head held high and using eye contact goes a long way to communicating confidence, which is why we’re big advocates of knowing your speech off by heart. Doing so will avoid all those awkward glances down to your notes which severs the connection with your audience.
Taking your time
Finally, one thing to remember that will help you to present in a calm and collected manner is to take your time. If your presentation is exactly ten minutes, you might expect to be up there speaking for exactly ten minutes, right? In fact, watching a person speak endlessly for ten whole minutes would be painful for your audience and leave them with the impression that they’ve just been presented to by a nervous robot.
Some of the best speeches and presentations ever given used pauses just as effectively as they used images on screen and words spoken.
Humans don’t regurgitate information at each other like fog horns blasting in the night. The ideas we present are reflective in our personalities and fuelled by our emotions. Your laptop, fuelled by 1s and 0s and powered by electricity, is not the one making the presentation; you are.
We can’t hide the fact that we are emotional, sensitive, and flawed creatures. Everyone is, and that is therefore automatic common ground on which you can build rapport. Capture your audience’s imagination by showing that you are just like them, and that you are there to show them something you feel very strongly about. They can relate to that, and you’ll gain their trust as a result. This will help you to overcome that fear of presenting.
A presenter is not an actor, because presenters need to tell the truth (or, at least, they should do!). If your idea greatly excites you, show it. If a story about how you arrived to where you are today is sad, show that, too.
There’s power in the personal
Combining all those tips and pieces of advice should go a long way to helping you deal with performance anxiety and stage fright. It isn’t something that can be fixed overnight, so try to work at it everyday and you’ll soon be dominating the world of presentations and public speaking having overcome your fear of presenting.
Still need help? Talk to us. Here at Future Present we live and breathe PowerPoint and have mastered what it takes to create a powerful and effective presentation.
From expertly designed slides, to damn-clever PowerPoint development, no one does presentations like we do.