“I have to give a presentation to a group of around 20 people but I’m really scared of public speaking. What’s more, there are a couple of people in the group more experienced than me who probably know a lot more about the stuff I’m going to talk about anyway. As an introvert, I haven’t got a lot of confidence with having all eyes on me and I’m just dreading making a mess of it. I know I need to develop this skill to grow professionally, so any advice would be much appreciated!”
I hear that. As an introvert myself I can’t tell you that the nerves will go away anytime soon. Believe me when I say though that it does get easier with practice though, as with probably every other challenging task in existence. So it’s great that you acknowledge this is something you need to do. To get ahead in your career, it’s an important thing to learn, whether you’re comfortable with it or not, and approaching it head on rips off the proverbial plaster. I’m much more confident with them now and once the momentum picks up, it’s really (nerdily) enjoyable!
My approach is having a number of safety nets in place before and throughout the presentation in 10 simple steps. The first 5 talk about what you can do before the presentation. I will then talk about the other 5 in the next post, where I explain what you can do during the presentation. These are tips on delivering a presentation – I will write another post later about how to put one together.
- What’s the point…
…of the presentation? To avoid wasted effort and time, clarify what the presentation needs to be about. To use a corporate word for it, what is its ‘objective’? What does the audience need to take away from the presentation? Who are the audience? And if this has been commissioned by someone else like your line manager, confirm the point with them so that you’re both on the same page before work starts. This saves you embarrassment if you’re pulled up in mid-presentation that you’ve got the wrong end of the stick.
- Fact check
Always routinely fact check your presentation. Even if you are pretty sure a certain fact is correct, double check this from a reliable source. Odds are the one fact you didn’t check will be brought up by someone who will challenge you. Scary right? Check your facts.
- Get your intro right
While conquering my fear of public speaking, I find that the best way to start a presentation is a really good and well-rehearsed introduction. Starting off on a trip or stumble (verbally of course, although physically is just as humiliating) will really knock your confidence and you run the risk of this setting the tone for the rest of the presentation. Only a risk though, not a guarantee.
Knowing exactly what you’re going to say at the beginning and how you’re going to say it will really get you on the right foot and build confidence-momentum. This will involve writing down the tiny detail, even an ice breaker, of what you’re going to say to hush people to attention. Practise what you’re going to say, you need this in your ammo. For example:
‘Right everyone? Excuse me, everyone? [you need to choose specific wording otherwise you won’t feel comfortable using a hushing expression on the spot without knowing what the words sound like in the air]. I think it’s time we all crack on with this if we’re going to make the best of our time so if we could just settle, we can begin.
‘Right, thank you everyone. My name is Bob, and today I will be talking about X so that by the end of the presentation, we will get a really clear understanding of what we need to do next, while also opening the floor for any comments’.
Go through the presentation a number of times and make sure the flow is right. You don’t want to write an entire script down that you read off, which sounds like a safe option, but it’s really awkward hearing it. And once you start and you realise people know what you’re doing, it’s incredibly hard (and more awkward) to break out of it mid-presentation.
- Prepare, pause, repeat.
Preparing for a presentation might sound like an obvious step, and rightly so as without preparing for the presentation, you feel less in control, and that’s where the fear kicks in. What you need to be cautious about though is preparing too much. That might sound a little odd, but you can actually prepare so much that you play out the same presentation over and over again so rigidly but in your head. Come the day you present, it’s more likely not going to turn out the way you planned, and frankly, you can never be 100% sure how it will go. Preparing too much gives you a false sense of security.
Instead, give my ‘prepare, pause, repeat’ method a go. What I do it prepare a lot for a presentation then ‘pause’, or just put it away out of my mind and not think about it for a day or two. Then I prepare again, be it a rehearsal or quick fact-check, and then I put it away out of my mind again. This stops you preparing so much that you overwhelm yourself with such a rigid perception of how it will go while also giving you the opportunity to not be so heavily involved that you can’t spot grammatical errors or inaccuracies.
So these are 5 things you can do to put some safety nets in place before the presentation. In my next post I will share 5 further tips in what you can do during the presentation.