Do you love the work you do… until it comes to having to speak and presenting in public? You know support for your project, idea, proposal, purchase or even budget approval can be won or lost based on your ability to present with confidence and authority. Yet the simple thought of having to give a presentation keeps you awake at night, sick to your stomach and overcome with fear. The truth is you are not alone, a great majority of people feel this way.
Having conducted a variety of in-house and public presentation skills courses over the years, I find when you ask the participants why they are attending the answers tend to be the same. Interestingly, it’s not what most people would expect when taking a presentation skills course.
I’ve discovered it is less about learning new techniques, structuring content or where to stand and what to do with their hands. What I’ve found is it’s more about overcoming nervousness, overcoming their fears and dealing with difficult questions. In a nutshell, they come to learn how to build their confidence in front of an audience.
Here are three things you can do to build your confidence before your next big presentation.
Know your material well
This is key point. I can’t stress enough how important it is for a presenter to know their material, which is the content of the presentation. When you know the details well, your anxiety level comes down and your confidence level goes up. It is my belief that people don’t bother to really learn their material because they think all they have to do is read the presentation from the computer or the screen. This not only makes for a dis-engaging presentation, you’ll be lost if the boss asks you to cut short the presentation as you’re not sure which information to cut and what to share. Make the effort to know the content well once you’ve laid out the presentation and know the major talking points you want to convey.
Anticipate the questions which may come up
No one likes to be caught off guard, frozen in front of the management and their peers like a deer caught in the headlights. One of the best ways to prepare for the dreaded Q&A session is to actually think of potential questions which might come up in advance. List out at least five to eight challenging questions and craft the appropriate responses. Practice the responses so they flow effortlessly when answering. The goal is to avoid the embarrassing response of… uhh, uhh, let me see… In addition to the difficult questions, you should also prepare the responses to a few easy questions as well.
When it comes to actually responding to the question, follow a few simple steps. Listen carefully to the question. Acknowledge the person asking the question and then repeat or rephrase the question. This gives you the opportunity to ensure you’ve heard correctly and understand the question. Maintain eye contact and pause before responding to the question. If you receive a hostile question, rephrase it before responding.
Practice, practice, practice
Once you have crafted your presentation, created your supporting documents or PowerPoint and listed out your responses to difficult questions, it’s now time to practice. For individuals looking to really improve their performance, practice is essential. In the classroom I ask the group how many people practice four or five times before presenting. I have yet to have any hand go up. At best, twice seems to be the maximum number of times people will practice.
First practice the presentation so you can hear what you sound like. In fact, you should record yourself. Are there any words you trip over? Are you speaking clearly and finishing every word? What is your pace and tone of voice? Now go through it again and make note of how long it takes you. If you are given 30 minutes to present, aim for ending in 25. Next practice the presentation in front of a mirror to see if you have any odd facial or hand gestures. Your hands are your visual aids; use them when you want to emphasis a particular point.
Every person has the potential to become a calm and confident presenter. Your nerves and fears may not fully subside, however they will be significantly reduced and your confidence level will rise. You can certainly lessen your fears when you make the effort to know the material well, anticipate the questions; prepare your responses and then practice and practice again. What are you waiting for? Get going!