Presentation jitters aren’t reserved for businessmen alone. Whether you’re the best man at a wedding, the host for a fundraising event or a boardroom regular, you’d be well-advised to brush up on some public speaking pointers every now and then.
Why is presentation anxiety so common? It has to do with the fairly universal fear of public speaking. Globally, public speaking is the number one fear among adults – outranking fear of death. In fact, 75% of adults suffer from this kind of performance/speech anxiety.
Just like any fear, public speaking jitters can be overcome. After all, the reason behind fear of public speaking is very identifiable, making it easier to address and correct. What’s the reason? Self-preservation. We get nervous presenting in front of an audience because we feel vulnerable. We worry that we’ll make mistakes, forget our points, and seem under-informed or generally unlikable. This vulnerability creates an almost obsessive worry about “how the presentation will go”.
Vulnerability can lead to social anxiety and an overall feeling of loss of control. For some of us, this results in butterflies in the stomach and maybe an accelerated heart rate. For others, this feeling can be overwhelming and result in loss of speech, profuse sweating and anxiety attacks.
Whether you’re hoping to calm your nerves or overcome a serious phobia of public speaking, there are a few great tips to keep in mind. I received this advice from my boss – a public speaker for over 25 years – when I joined the company I currently work for. A recent university grad, I didn’t have much real life experience in giving presentations.
Sure, I had delivered presentations to my peers in university and had even taken some courses on presentation strategies, but my nerves were getting the best of me. My boss’ words of advice helped me to relax and, using them as my mantra for public speaking ever since, I no longer have any symptoms of anxiety before a big presentation. I’ve presented to groups of 400 people without breaking a sweat.
So, what are these tips? Be sure to review this list before your next public speaking obligation:
1) Public speaking is not inherently stressful. The act of speaking is not what gives us anxiety. It is the pre-emptive planning and worry that causes us to panic. You might be suffering from extreme fear of public speaking now, but it can be overcome.
There are lots of examples of this – I’m one of them – but you’ll have to apply different methods of thinking in order to find what works best for you.
Remember, the presentation isn’t causing you stress. You are causing the stress, and more specifically, your worry about the presentation is causing the stress. Try going for a long walk to clear your mind, and then implement the strategies below.
2) Don’t overreach. If you don’t know the answer to someone’s question, tell them so. Explain that you’re unsure and will get back to them. After the presentation, do your research and send them an email with the answer. If you have an email list of all presentation attendees, you can think about sending your response to the entire group in case anyone else became curious.
This shows that you have great follow-up and are willing to do your research before speaking. Not only will the attendees appreciate your effort, but you’ll learn more about your presentation topic, too.
You will never be so well researched as to know everything about your topic, so don’t panic if you don’t have the answer right away. Nothing is worse than getting caught in a lie if you try to weasel your way through a response that you’re unsure of.
3) You know more than they do. This is almost always true when presenting to a group. You are the only one who’s done the research. You’re going to be more informed on the topic.
If you’re presenting to a group of peers who know a lot about your topic, keep in mind that you know more about the presentation than anyone else. Don’t worry about messing up, because it’s rare for anyone to notice.
If you keep this in mind, you’ll be more confident about the subject and that will come across in your presentation.
4) Make points, not speeches. For most of us, this is the best method for delivering a confident and cohesive presentation.
If your presentation is overly scripted, you’ll panic if you deviate, and you’ll panic if you mix up your words or if you lose track of your place.
If your presentation is written in point-form, you’ll have notes to keep you on track but they won’t bind you. Your delivery will be true to your voice and easily adaptable for audience interaction.
5) Research is more important than memorization. If you’re well-researched, you can use topic points to guide you.
If you’re well-researched, questions are less likely to catch you off guard, you’ll be more confident in your presentation and your audience will find you informative. This will add up to a great presentation.
If you memorize your points, you’ll put unnecessary pressure on yourself to get them right. Do your research, make points to guide you, then keep those points in an area where you can easily reference them.
Keep these in mind for your next public speaking event. If you speak publicly on a regular basis, take comfort that things will continue to improve over time. Practice and patience, along with guidelines like these, will help you find your confident voice.