It’s no wonder that for many people, the fear of public speaking registers as more terrifying than the fear of death. Just think about where our minds go when we’re about to give a key presentation and all eyes are on us. So often, what we tell ourselves in this critical moment is not in any way conducive to presenting well. Then there are our bodies which add some other complications to manage: the light feeling in our stomach, the tight, short breaths, and the booming heartbeat. All the while we’re trying to harness our deepest concentration and most eloquent words!
Training yourself to speak assuredly and engagingly to groups is an asset in any field. Below is my personal go-to list for working with ‘presentation fear’ rather than resisting it:
Acknowledge the fear
In your most non-judgmental, curious, and even friendly tone, call out your fear. Name it. Say, “I am really spooked right now. This afternoon’s presentation has me really wound up.” The most critical piece of this step is then moving from your newfound acknowledgement to deciding that you can do something about this information. Just as you would quickly come up with strategies if a work crisis fell into your lap, you also have strategies for managing your fear. Reassure yourself that lucky for you, you have a go-to plan to manage the situation.
Channel your energy
On many a workday (especially around 2 pm), I wish I had a jolt of energy to bring up my focus and stamina levels. See your fear as exactly that, a boost of needed energy that can be easily transformed. For example, if you look at your fear as a kind of raw, malleable material, than it’s much easier to turn apprehension into enthusiasm and passion. A speaker needs to be highly engaged to succeed and your fear is giving you the kernels of focus and sharpness you need.
Be of service
Every time you observe yourself thinking of catastrophes, especially those focused on you, turn it around. Instead, concentrate your attention on your audience. Ask, “How can I best be of service to them today? What pieces of information do they most need to hear? How can I help them receive/digest this most easily?” Every time you indulge in your own fears, you leave your audience out in the cold. So do the opposite: make it all about them, even if it means working harder to learn about their needs in advance.
Over-prepare your opening
Often, when we start off strong in a presentation, that confidence (plus our engagement with the audience) will carry us all the way through. Put a little more time into the first third of your presentation than the middle and concluding parts. You want to assert your confidence and connection with the audience early on, something that helps them give you their full attention and makes them a bit more forgiving later if you make a misstep. If you make a misstep right out of the gate on the other hand, it can leave you and them too shaken to concentrate well.
Frame it the right way
Make a mental choice to believe that the audience is on your side. They want to see you succeed. They want to learn something new. They don’t have a lot to gain from seeing you fail. Without this kind of deliberate, empowering mantra, our worries can swerve all over the place. Take control of your jitters by positioning the audience however you need to see them: as supporters, knowledge seekers, trusted advisors, or lively, engaged debaters.
You can keep your presentations fresh and interesting by finding new, genuine connections to the material, even if you present on the same topic repeatedly. Tie your presentation to a relevant industry change, a timely news story or a pressing cause. Make it your own and find angles to keep your passion for the topic renewed. As you acknowledge your butterflies and harness that energy, you’ll find it only gets easier to use it as a propeller.
What have you done to help alleviate nervousness when speaking or presenting?