As a leader, you will find yourself in many situations where you will be making presentations in front of groups. And for some leaders, the very idea strikes fear in the heart! A little bit of fear is a good thing! It gives you an energy that can fuel an exciting and persuasive presentation. But when fear becomes an overpowering force that knocks you off your feet and makes you want to run and hide, it’s time to get that fear under control. A great maxim is: It’s okay to have butterflies … we just want them to fly in formation!
Almost everyone suffers from fear when they realize they will be the focal point in a crowded room. You may remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry commented, “At a funeral, most people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy!” I doubt that’s really true, but fear of public speaking can be paralyzing … and it can become a career stopper to boot! So here are ten great tips to help you take charge over that seductive enemy of fear of public speaking. Five of them are things you can do before the presentation as you prepare, and five are things you can do during the presentation, when your knees are shaking, you feel the sweat running down your back, and your hands are shaking so hard you can’t hold the microphone!
BEFORE THE PRESENTATION:
- Rehearse. I know, no one enjoys rehearsal. But this can be the Number One fear-buster technique to adopt. Rehearsal creates muscle memory, which helps you keep going when fear steals your words. And notice I said Rehearse — not Memorize! Memorization is a disaster! If you lose one word, you fumble and stammer until you find it. The key is to have bullet points, and speak spontaneously from them! (In my class, Presenting With Pizzazz, we talk about the only things to memorize are your opening and closing words! These are the toughest parts of the speech!)
- Visualize your presentation going well. Research supports the power of a positive trial run in your mind. See yourself walking to the podium or center stage; imagine looking out at the audience and seeing attentive faces ready to hear everything you are about to say; listen to yourself and watch as you mentally go through your entire speech, seeing yourself use perfect gestures and movements, creating smooth transitions, telling captivating stories, and inspiring the audience to take the actions you desire.
- Perform a Worst/Best Scenario. This may fly in the face of the positive thinking, but it really works! Take some time to imagine the absolute worst that could happen during your presentation, then imagine the absolute best that could happen. Then ask yourself what the chances are the worst would happen … and if it did, could you handle it? Next, evaluate what the chances are the best could happen … and if it did, could you handle it? You’ll find you alleviate a lot of fear simply by acknowledging what could happen and knowing you could handle it.
- Set realistic expectations for yourself. Don’t measure yourself against a professional speaker who has been doing this for years. Be realistic about your ability, and how you want to perform. Notes are okay to have — in fact, I recommend them. It takes away that fear of forgetting what you plan to say!
- Create a “pre-speech” routine. Some folks like to do some breathing exercises; some like to exert themselves in a physical exercise (Yul Bryner, who played the King in The King and I on Broadway, said he would do 100 push-ups against a wall right before he walked out on stage!); other folks prefer to mingle with the crowd to get comfortable with who’s in the audience. Find what works for you, and make it part of your routine.
DURING THE PRESENTATION:
- Plan your entrance and take a deep breath. This is important. Once you are introduced, walk calmly and professionally to your spot. Then take a moment to look at the audience, breathe, and compose yourself. This puts you in control of what is happening! It’s good to smile, too!
- Look for friendly faces! In most situations, your audience wants you to be good. They’re rooting for you.So don’t get caught up in the face that looks upset or disagreeable. Instead, search out those heads that are nodding with you, the people who are laughing at your humor, the smiling faces that support you.Draw your energy from them.
- Have water available, and don’t be afraid to use it! If your voice starts to quiver or crack, simply take a little sip of your water. It will relax your muscles and calm your nerves so you can speak more clearly, with more vitality.
- Be yourself! A surefire recipe for disaster is to try to be like some other speaker you’ve seen! You can, of course, learn from others, but once you are on stage it is important for you to be yourself. Allow your own style and personality to emerge, so the audience can relate to you. As Oscar Wilde so aptly said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
- Trust the process. You’ve done the work. You’ve prepared and rehearsed. You are ready. So stop thinking so much! It’s time to relax, have fun, and trust the process, knowing you are going to be a sensational hit!