Over the years I have been fortunate enough (depending on your point of view) to present on anything from marketing strategies and business plans to awards and mobile phone ring tones, engaging audiences of senior executives, professional sport stars, rooms full of old ladies playing bingo and conference halls full of over-imbibed salespeople at 11pm on an end of year high.
What’s to learn from these experiences? Something different every time. But two things remain consistent…there is ALWAYS something to improve upon and, no matter what you learn, some form of nervous energy or mild anxiety is always present – for almost everyone.
Whilst nervous energy can be channelled into passion and excitement for your topic and even enhance performance, the ‘presentation phobic’ struggle to see the positive side of nervousness – their inability to control their anxiety results in a performance that conveys a lack of confidence and loses them the opportunity to influence, fuelling the fear of presenting the next time, and the next…
A persistent, abnormal and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous…
Whilst you can be absolutely competent and genuinely great at the majority of your job, if you stand up and deliver poor presentations, judgements will be made by your audience. Rightly or wrongly, to be perceived as competent, you must be able to present well. Whatever the role, confident presenters have the power to effectively inform, influence, persuade and evoke action.
So, when presentations are unavoidable, and delivering them well is critical, what can be done to ‘cure’ presentation phobia, or at the very least minimise the cause and effect?
Try these strategies next time you’re up. Good luck!
Recognise the signs. Heart racing, legs shaking, palms clammy, feelings of nausea… Your nerves are telling your brain that there’s danger and your body naturally reacts. The ‘self-preservation posture’ is an instant give-away. Eyes down, arms folded across your body, hunched shoulders, fidgeting. You’re feeling the fear – and your audience knows it.
I play a fair amount of sport and a technique that I have learnt to use from various coaches, is talking to myself! Sounds crazy but many top sportspeople repeat a phrase to help them get in the right position or to keep calm in pressure situations. If you have a 3 or 4 word mantra that you repeat in your head at certain times, it could help you maintain a strong and confident posture, keep you calm and, as a result, put your audience at ease. So tell yourself, stand tall, hands by your side and smile.
The 7 Ps
Prior planning and preparation prevents a pretty poor performance…
You may have heard other variations of this phrase but the essence remains. If presenting is filling you with dread then focus on the things you can control and make sure you ‘know your stuff’.
It’s tough to silence pessimistic self-talk, but belt and braces preparation will absolutely help to reduce it. The majority of disastrous possibilities your internal scaremonger offers up are well within your control – contingency plans, back up and practice are your defences against the dark thoughts.
Most importantly of all, know the content and topic of your presentation. You’re probably presenting because you know more about the topic than anyone else in the room. As soon as you’re ‘on stage’ your audience respects you as the expert, so use that position of power and your intrinsic knowledge of the content as a confidence boost to help you control the room.
Take your TEDS
You know you’re going to be nervous in advance, so plan to initially deflect attention away from yourself and onto your audience by asking questions (rhetorical or otherwise), rather than launching straight into your presentation. It’s a great trick to ease yourself in gently, start building connections and get the audience thinking about the subject in hand.
Your negative self-talk will kick in right about now and you’ll worry about your questions being met with the terror of an awkward silence. But not if you’re well prepared with PPP and TEDS…
If you don’t already know your audience, try to find out about them in advance and learn a few names. Use the PPP technique of Pose (your question), Pause (for responses), Pounce (ask a member of the audience by name for their thoughts if the pause feels too long).
Prepare your questions with TEDS. Tell Me, Explain to me, Describe to me, Suggest to me are openers that will serve to engage your audience, encourage participation and give you a confidence-boosting warm up.
Take a look at the opening couple of minutes of this video for a great example of how to deflect attention and engage the audience at the beginning of a presentation. It also has a lot of useful information about body language, so have a watch.
Challenge your Inner Critic
Be kind to yourself. Take the last presentation you gave for example – how hard were you on yourself? Challenge unhelpful self-criticism such as; ‘That was a stupid thing to say’ and replace it with a more positive reflection; ‘I could’ve chosen my words better, but nobody really noticed’.
Take the time to break down elements of your presentation into three areas:
1.) Start Doing
2.) Stop Doing
3.) Keep Doing.
Coming away with a productive list of honest reflections and action items is far preferable to parking each presentation as a ‘bad experience’, adding to fears and feeding the phobia.
These are just a few ideas that may help you face the phobia and hopefully some of these techniques will help you…but everyone is different and you need to try, try and try again. There is no such thing as a perfect presentation but, if you are prepared to listen to others, observe what others do, be honest with yourself and persist – you will only get better and, in time, become more confident when asked to take to the stage… you may even begin volunteering.
But one step at a time hey!