Let’s look at two separate lists, both of which have remained somewhat static for at least the last couple of decades. First, the most common human fears. Second, the skills that employers desire in potential employees. What do both of those lists have in common? Public speaking.
Since neither one of those lists seems to be changing any time soon, we know that presentation anxiety is a fear that we need to confront. The following tips will give you a leg up on your nerves the next time you have to present, even if that leg is shaking a little bit.
- Recognize Your Nerves and Plan for Them. Current statistics tell us that 3 out of every 4 people experience nerves when we have to present publicly, and those nerves show up in different forms. Sweating, shortness of breath, talking too fast, and shaking are a few of the most common ones. Once you’ve identified your body’s response to the stress of public speaking, you need to realize that you probably won’t be able to completely eliminate this response. But you can develop strategies to help minimize and control your nerves. For instance, if you know that you will have shortness of breath, you might consider playing a short video or asking the audience a rhetorical question at the introduction that allows you to take a few deep breaths. If you are someone who shakes, you might intentionally plan to move more during the introduction to release some of that nervous energy. Once you know your body’s response, you can be strategic about minimizing it.
- Prepare and Practice. If you want to feel confident when you step in front of your audience, prepare ahead of time. If your presentation isn’t carefully constructed, your nerves will inevitably be worse. So make sure the content of your presentation has been well-prepared. And then, practice. Record yourself while you practice and then watch your recording to see how you might improve. Try watching your video with the sound off so that you can pay attention to your nonverbal communication (body language, eye contact, etc.). Then, listen to your recording without watching it, noting what could be improved. When it comes to how much you should practice, use these three guidelines: practice until you feel like you’ve improved everything you can, until you can watch yourself on video and feel good about the presentation, and until you can deliver the presentation with ease. While you can definitely practice too little, I’ve yet to meet an effective presenter who practices too much. Remember, public speaking is a skill, and the more you practice, the more your self-criticism will turn to self-confidence.
- Know the 30-Second Rule. Your adrenaline will peak right before your presentation and during the first few moments you are speaking. This is often termed the adrenaline wall. Most of your nerves will minimize after the first 30 seconds of your presentation. You’ll begin to find your stride, and your body’s operations will start to regulate and return to normal. Your heart rate will slow down, and much of that adrenaline rush will be absorbed. Just knowing that the nerves you are experiencing will reduce soon can help you to get through the first intense moments of your presentation.
- Shift Focus from Yourself to Your Audience. This tip is my favorite. I’ve been teaching public speaking for over 15 years, and every time someone asks me about how to get over the fear of public speaking, I tell them the story of Jodie. Jodie was a senior student in a class full of freshman. She waited around after our first class and tearfully told me of her severe presentation anxiety. She had tried to take a public speaking class every year prior and had dropped it each time. She knew that if she couldn’t get through the required class this time, she wouldn’t be able to graduate. I told her to stop thinking about the speech and asked her some questions. Why was she on the Earth? What made her heart beat faster? She told me she had been adopted from another country and had horrific memories of what that was like. She wanted to return to her home country and help to reform the orphanages there. I told her for the first assignment, I didn’t want her to give a speech, I wanted her to tell us her story. I reminded her that what she had to say to the world was needed, and it was a story no one else could share. Once Jodie tapped into her purpose and passion, she was able to find the strength to share her story.
As a presenter, you have information that the audience needs. You have been chosen to present because you are the voice that will best tell the story of your product, or your plan, or your company. If you focus on the information you need to share, it will allow you to take the focus off of yourself and place it where it belongs, on your audience. And when you are no longer focused on yourself, your nerves will start to disappear.
Want to learn more about how to confront and control your fear of public speaking? You can move beyond fear to become a confident and effective presenter by registering for our online class at presentationmentor.com.