Last year, I gave a presentation at Shoptalk about organizing for the future of retail. I’d love to say everything went perfectly, and I didn’t bat an eye at talking in front of 300 people.
The truth is, I still get nervous speaking in front of people. And the Shoptalk presentation was no exception.
On the stage, I could see row upon row of expectant faces. My stomach was turning, my hands were sweating, and I was just trying to take deep breaths. I told myself, “You got this. You know what you’re talking about.”
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Then I stood up, ran through my intro, and clicked to show my first slide.
I clicked again. Still nothing. As I stood there clicking away, I slowly realized it wasn’t going to work. I was going to have to speak without the slides.
At a moment like that, things can go one of two ways: You can either spiral into a panic, or recenter yourself and continue.
So, I paused for a minute to gather myself. Then I announced to the audience, “The slides aren’t working, so I’m just going to talk.” And that was that. I made it through my presentation just fine. The slides even started working halfway through.
The reality is, every public speaker has a moment like that at some point—a moment when the slides don’t work or their brain freezes up.
There are a few ways to make sure those little slip-ups don’t turn into a disaster.
1. Understand your audience.
People who go to panels and listen to speakers are doing so because they want to learn something. They want to walk away with new or unique information.
It’s easy to forget that while you’re speaking. You’ve probably noticed that some speakers lose their focus on the audience and begin to talk more about themselves. While it’s fine to give people some details about yourself, your presentation is not about you. It’s about the audience.
My topic at Shoptalk was about the future of retail. And it would have been really easy for me to go on and on about ThirdLove and our business. But that’s not what people came to hear. They wanted to learn about how we’ve organized our company, why that’s made us successful, and what they can apply to their own business.
A lot of people miss an opportunity to connect with their audience because they never provide listeners with anything of value. So, figure out who your audience is, and create your presentation with them in mind.
2. Practice until you’re (almost) perfect.
I don’t use notes on stage. I just work from my memory. But before you toss your notes in the trash, let me tell you what goes into my preparation.
I run through my presentation beforehand at least 20 times. The first 5-10 are about getting the story down. I use my notes, I get a good idea of the content, and then I start saying it out loud.
At that point, things always change. Sometimes I’ll think of another story that better illustrates my point. Other times I’ll realize a line that looked good written down doesn’t sound great when I say it.
The next 10 practice runs are about the presentation of the content. I make sure everything is cohesive, and I build up my confidence in what I’m saying.
As you practice, remember there’s a fine line between being prepared and being so well-rehearsed that you sound robotic. Be comfortable with your presentation, but try to avoid getting to the point where you sound fake.
3. Be yourself on stage.
Trust me, the audience will not connect with you if you’re imitating someone else or suppressing your natural personality.
People often have an idea of what a public speaker should look like and how they should act. The truth is, it’s much more important to come off as authentic than it is to sound like a ‘perfect’ public speaker.
When I’m speaking, I like to use my hands. Sometimes, I speak very quickly because I’m excited about a topic. That’s my personality showing through, and I think people connect with it.
You want to seem authentic and excited about your presentation. People don’t come to an event to hear someone droning away in a monotone voice. If you bring your passion and energy to the topic—you’ll be surprised by the audience’s response.
After my presentation at Shoptalk, no one really talked about the slide mishap. People were more focused on what I’d said. In fact, I’m pretty sure most of the audience had forgotten all about my slides by the end of the presentation.
Will I always get nervous before a presentation? Probably. But I also know I’ve done everything I can to prepare. If you know that’s the case when you stand up to speak, you’ll have all the confidence you need.
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