You’ve been handed a burden, which seems to have already decided where it wants to go: yes, someone’s dumped a presentation on you, and if you’re really unlucky, they’re filled with the words and slides of another.
Your stomach feels like a cement mixer as you’re launched into the pit of anxiety that threatens to swallow you up.
Actually, a certain amount of nervous energy can sharpen the senses but you want to control them, not have them control you.
So here are 7 ways to make nervous energy work for you and make presenting – dare I say it – enjoyable.
Numbers 2 and 7 can be particularly useful in life, not just presentations: not that presentations are part of something other than life. You’re not sailing on the Styx: just speaking to a bunch of people, for heaven’s sake. You can do it.
Read on if you want to save your heart rate for the gym.
- Don’t be someone else’s glove puppet – got someone else’s 76 tedious slides to deliver? Define the key message, make sure you make maximum 9 points to support it, then chuck, change or skip the slides you don’t need. Your job is to communicate a message, not be a mouthpiece for someone for a bad messenger.
- Reframe – when asked to do a presentation, many consider this a huge bane. After all, it’s not the core part of their role, unless they’re a professional presenter. So tell yourself: ‘I do not do presentations. I do dialogues, with one person speaking most of the time.’ We all know how normal that kind of conversation is.
- Breathe – when you’re nervous, your breathing may tend to go up to your chest, this ‘upper thoracic’ pattern generates more adrenalin, which can make you short of breath and increase anxiety further. By breathing from the stomach, or ribs around the centre of the torso, you’ll achieve greater calm.
- Dump the script – trying to remember a script can not only makes your presentation a stressful experience but can also make you look and sound rather wooden. You need some spontaneity in there so using a mind map, showing your points and how they relate to your main message, would give you a clear pathway through your content
- Not a herd of heads, but humans – chatting with members of your audience beforehand means that you’ll already have a connection amongst those faces. As a result, that anonymous sea of faces disappears and is replaced by what it really is: a group of individuals who really want to listen to you. And I know this for a fact because it’s pretty questionable that anyone would want a speaker to be unengaging, unless they need to catch up on their sleep.
- Don’t introduce yourself – you may not have to do this anyway, if someone is introducing you, but in the spirit of a normal conversation, it’s uncommon for a stranger to approach you with ‘Hi, my name is Jo Bloggs and I’m the R&D Director for Sky-high Ltd.’ You’d forget the name anyway because there’s too much processing going on in our minds when we first meet people. Have you ever gone out and started talking to someone, then half an hour later it dawns on one of you to ask the other’s name? What you did was engage, just like in a natural conversation. To do this in a presentation, you can use the Spice Rack, techniques of engagement. These include a picture, prop, anecdote or quote. Then, and only then, introducing yourself would be timely.
- Transfer an experience – when speaking in public, you may need to tap into a sense of confidence. Sometimes, it might be something like a feeling of freedom or control. Once that the emotional quality has been pinpointed, recall a time when you felt this. By summoning up the atmosphere and senses around this experience, you can then use a physical trigger to immediately invoke that sensation.