The sheer thought of standing up and giving a presentation sends many into a cold sweat, and as the popular saying goes “most people would prefer to be lying in the casket rather than giving the eulogy”. The fear of public speaking is widespread, and it regularly tops the list of people’s worst fears! So what can you do if it’s crunch-time and you have to give a presentation? Here’s how to get yourself started…
My first experience of public speaking was being sent on a presentation skills course when I worked for KPMG – I was 21 and I had no desire whatsoever to stand up in front of a group of people and talk. But there I was, under duress on a two day residential course, and late for the start of day 1 which meant I walked straight into being the first victim to trial their public speaking ability in front of a class of strangers. It didn’t go well.
Fast forward more years than I care to remember, and now I run presentation skills courses and coach on a topic that is dreaded by many – who’d have thought! So first things first, we can ALL master how to give a great presentation, and who knows, you might just enjoy it too.
Now as you can imagine, there are lots of tips and techniques I could give you on this topic, but there’s one area that’s often forgotten and in my view it’s the starting point if you really want to master public speaking.
The golden nugget I’m referring to is your mindset. Sure, you can start off focusing on how to structure your presentation, how best to communicate with your audience, the power of metaphors and storytelling, or how to memorise your content. But if your head is all over the place, and you don’t believe you can deliver an engaging presentation you might as well forget all of that.
So to get you started, here are my 3 key tips to mastering your mindset when it comes to public speaking: –
1. Embrace Nerves
First things first, accept that you’re going to be nervous and realise that those butterflies in your stomach are actually a good thing.
As Mark Twain said, “There are only two types of speakers in the world – 1: The Nervous and 2: The Liars”. Many of the most influential speakers in the world will happily admit that they get nervous, but the difference that sets them apart from those who run a mile from public speaking is that they accept that nerves are part of the process, and use them to their advantage.
Practically every week I present or speak in public, and I’m nervous every single time – without exception. The nerves I don’t like are the ones I get when I feel under-prepared and know that I haven’t done enough to deliver a great presentation. So I always make sure, without fail, that I’ve planned my preparation in advance and have followed through on everything I know I need to do to build my confidence.
Then I only have to cope with the nerves that keep me on my toes, and give me a shot of adrenaline that powers me through the presentation and keeps me in ‘Up Time’ – that’s when I’m focused on what the audience needs, and not my fear of forgetting what I’m talking about or worrying what people are thinking about me.
Once you expect nerves, and embrace them, you’ll give yourself space to think about what’s really important in your presentation instead of the peripheral ‘stuff’ that can really get in the way.
2. Be Vulnerable
Instead of aiming for a slick presentation, allow yourself to show vulnerability and give yourself permission to make mistakes – as well as taking the pressure off and easing nerves, this will also allow you to connect with your audience on a deeper level. If you’re too polished people won’t ask questions or learn as much from you.
At the end of the day, it’s a safe bet that the audience will be glad it’s you up there and not them, and in most cases they’ll be on your side and want you to succeed. So don’t expect to be some Super Presenter who’s untouchable – most people don’t want or need that. They just want to be able to connect to you, enjoy what you have to say, and come away feeling like they’ve learned something.
3. Be Careful What You Look For
If you’re expecting a disaster that’s probably what you’ll get. Just like a refrigerator, you only get out what you put in, so if you’re dreading the whole experience, anticipating forgetting your content, or waiting to be heckled by your audience your brain will look for evidence to prove you right, and just like magic, you’ll find it. It’s the same as deciding to buy a red car and all of a sudden there seem to be red cars everywhere!
To get over this very limiting mindset take some time out before your presentation to ‘future pace’ what you want the event to look, feel and sound like. Imagine you’re there, up front presenting – how do you want to feel? what reaction do you want your audience to have? what outcome do you want to experience? Get crystal clear on how you want the whole situation to play out so that your brain can focus on what you DO want, rather than what you’re dreading!
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