As a coach, I often meet managers who find themselves anxious and stressed when they have to deliver a presentation.
I know how it feels.
During my master’s degree studies, I fought with a good friend because I didn’t agree to deliver a presentation we prepared, after she had already done so.
Once I even left my job because I had to give a presentation to a team of about 6 people, co-workers, on a topic of my choice.
Okay… I’m exaggerating a bit. I left that job regardless, but I have to admit I was relieved that it happened before it was my turn to present.
However, during my coach training, shortly after, I discovered that not only do I have the ability to convey a message powerfully in front of an audience, but that in certain situations my impact is profound.
The difference was that I was deeply connected to the subject, and when I spoke it was as if a force greater than myself was flowing through me.
Later I gave some workshops to organizations and private groups, some of which I enjoyed more and some less; and after several years, during business training, I learned how to deliver a workshop that ended with a sales pitch.
Although I didn’t feel it was right for me I did it a few times, and then I didn’t want to hear about public speaking for a long time.
Through my personal experience and working with coachees on the subject, I have learned a number of things that can help anyone become a more relaxed and fluent speaker.
1. Think about your goal
Is the presentation that you have to deliver a task that you want to get done with or something that is important to you and inspires you?
Maybe your goal is to simply express what you planned without unnecessary stress? Maybe to inspire the audience? Or to enroll them in your idea?
Is it important to you to interact with your audience? To encourage them to ask questions?
Not all goals are the same.
Therefore, before you start dealing with your stage fright, make sure you know what your goal is.
2. Put the listeners in the center of your attention
As long as your focus is on how you are perceived by others, and the questions you ask yourself are, “Am I doing good enough?”, “What will they think of me?”, “What if I make a mistake or get stuck?”, and the like, you will suffer from worry and stress.
The first step to releasing the tension is to shift the focus to the audience through questions such as: “What do they need from me?”, “What do I want them to understand?”, “How can I help them today?”, and “Am I speaking in a way they can relate to?”
People will pay more attention to the value you give them than the quality of your performance.
3. Don’t make a fuss about mistakes
When you get stuck or make a mistake, instead of making a fuss about it, you can simply say, “Sorry, I was wrong, or, “Give me a moment to collect my thoughts.”
4. Remember that the pursuit of perfection is your biggest enemy
When the main focus is on how we look, the permission to deviate, even the slightest, from a perfect appearance does not exist. And if there is no room for human imperfection, we will always live in fear.
If the voice trembled, it was the end of the world.
And if we lost a word, it was a failure.
But this superhuman standard is neither natural nor necessary to deliver a successful presentation. This is not what’s important to the audience, and they are not the ones examining us with such meticulousness.
5. Reframe the tension you feel before presenting
It is your interpretation that makes the tension you feel before presenting good or bad.
A pounding heart or shaky voice can also be a sign of excitement. Sometimes when they disappear, the thrill and satisfaction of succeeding in the challenge disappear too.
6. Normalize your reluctance
Reluctance at the expected arrival of the event is also natural, although unpleasant.
The first step to reducing it is to accept the fact of its existence.
If I insist that it shouldn’t bother me and that something is wrong with me that it does, the self-judgment will become a problem in itself, more serious than the initial reluctance.
With time and experience, the fear will naturally fade; in the meantime, be sure to bring your attention back to the present moment whenever you start imagining everything that might go wrong.
This can be done by turning your attention from the thoughts in your head to what is in front of you. You can look intently at something around you for a couple of seconds, listen to the sounds that come from inside and outside, or give your full attention to one breath, from beginning to end.
7. Ask yourself, “Do I enjoy public speaking?”
If you don’t and you do it only because your job requires it, do everything in your power to keep it to a minimum.
When possible, say no or delegate the task to others.
If you insist that it’s worth fighting with yourself about this, ask yourself “Why?” And see if you can provide an answer that has nothing to do with your self-image (such as “It’s a weakness to be afraid of public speaking”). An answer like “Because it’s an integral part of the next job I want.”
8. Make sure you can stand behind your words
If you’re passionate about the topic, that’s great. But if not, at least avoid talking about something you don’t believe in and don’t feel comfortable “selling” it to others.
9. Know your subject inside out
There is no one right way to prepare.
Ted speakers rehearse for hours and hours on a 17-minute presentation and know every nuance by heart, and others, like Eckhart Tolle, one of the world’s leading spiritual teachers, sit down in front of an audience of 4,000 people without having the faintest idea what they are going to say and trust that what needs to be said will be.
The question is which way works best for you – to practice more or less, to improvise more or less.
Regardless, it’s important that you know the material well and can explain it if needed.
While it’s important to be prepared, it’s also reasonable not to be able to answer all the questions right away. In such a case, simply say something like, “Let me check it and get back to you.”
10. Arrive as calm as possible and equip yourself with some grounding techniques
Also, equip yourself with 1-2 grounding techniques that you can use during the presentation, such as paying attention to your breathing or the sensations of the inner body.
11. Picture your success
Think of an event when you felt at your peak – confident, relaxed, and articulate (not necessarily when presenting) and use it to create your image of success.
Think how you felt.
What sensations you had in your body?
How did you stand or sit?
What was your tone of voice?
What thoughts went through your mind?
How did you relate to others?
Use the parameters you identify to build your picture of success at the expected event.
Add to it as many details as you want. You can make your image colorful and bright, add to it a song that you love, or imagine the warm reactions of your audience.
Visualize this image multiple times before the event (including every time you start thinking about what might go wrong), and again, right before the event.
If you want to improve your technique, I highly recommend the following TedX talks that received over 10 million views so far:
And if you’re serious about becoming a great speaker, you can also take an improv or acting class.