As a public speaker, entrepreneur, trainer, consultant, manager, do you ever feel stressful about presenting to a group? Regardless of your role or relationship to the group, it’s quite normal to experience stress. A little stress keeps you alert; too much stress can be counterproductive.
Here are some thoughts to keep in mind before, during, and after you present that can keep your stress at a manageable level. Many of these ideas are common sense to remind you of what you already know. Other ideas are intended to encourage you. Still others may be ideas you haven’t thought about before, especially if you’re new to making presentations.
Research. Review. Or start from scratch. Do whatever you need to prepare yourself to be as successful as possible when you present. If you’re new to presenting to groups, you may find greater confidence in being over-prepared. As you become more confident and experienced, you’ll find your proper balance for being prepared and spontaneous.
Know Your Audience.
In advance, discover as much as possible about what your audience needs or wants from you. Group size and familiarity with the individuals determine whether you rely on general demographics, seek specific information, or conduct a thorough needs assessment. During the presentation, continue to be open to learning about your audience. Call individuals by name, if possible and practical.
Ask friends or colleagues to be an audience so you can rehearse. A mirror, tape recorder, and video equipment are useful tools for practice. Even experienced presenters practice. Try different ways to gesture and express ideas. Experiment with your voice: volume, pitch, cadence all contribute to your own calmness as a presenter. As much as you might practice, be certain that you’re spontaneous and fully present when you’re with the group.
Develop Positive Attitude.
Be positive about yourself as a general practice. Embody and feel good about the principles you want to express. When you feel good about yourself and your subject matter, it shows. If you don’t feel good about yourself or your subject, by all means, make believe you do! Sensitive participants will easily spot when you’re pretending, so this strategy has its limitations. The best approach is to be truly congruent about being positive and feeling good.
Show you have confidence. Not over-confidence, confidence. If you’re quaking inside, be intentional about whether to show it or not. It can work to your detriment or benefit. Some audiences will rise to the occasion and embrace you lovingly. Other audiences will lose confidence in you if you have no confidence in yourself. Know your audience. Know yourself.
Take a Deep Breath, Release it Slowly, and Relax.
Breathe deeply to replenish the oxygen in your body. This calms you, reduces your stress, and helps you to think more clearly. This is especially effective just before your presentation. Even during your presentation, you can practice this without anyone knowing. In certain groups, you can lead participants in a relaxation exercise, which will, in turn, relax you.
Let others know you’re pleased to be with them. A smile can connect you with others at the heart level. When people experience your genuine smile, they tend to smile back. Presenting to a group of smiling participants is more fun than the alternatives.
Make Your Opening and Closing Memorable.
First impressions are long remembered, as are your final words. Of course, you want the middle to be solid as well. Make a definite opening and closing. Some presenters give their audience permission to leave as the session nears the end; however, that dissipates the energy. If you’re losing your audience (emotionally, mentally, or physically), pause, stop, or take a break, so that you maintain the integrity of the group. Instead, have a definite closing and then offer to stay to answer questions.
Talk in a Conversational Style.
Use comfortable speech. If you must refer to notes, don’t read them! It’s better to stumble over a few words than to insult your audience by reading. If you use overhead slides, avoid just reading those, also. Your slides should be bullet points, not paragraphs. If you know your material, you don’t have to read it. Of course, if you’re quoting someone directly or must convey lots of numbers, reading is acceptable.
Use Physical Activity to Ease Tension.
Move around, especially if your session is lengthy. If you’re making a seated presentation, move naturally in your chair, without squirming. If appropriate, stand at a flip chart or chalkboard when you’re presenting information. If you’re presenting to a large group of people who have been sitting for a while (for example, if you are one of many presenters), find ways to get them to move around, interact with each other, or actively participate in a writing assignment.
Anticipate Needs and Respond Calmly.
Consider in advance the questions or unique situations that might be stimulated by the material you’re presenting. Ask yourself what you wanted or needed to know when you were first exposed to this topic. While you cannot be prepared for every possible question or variation on the topic, you can organize for most. Stay cool when problems occur.
Seek and Accept Opportunities to Make Presentations.
Keep at it! The more you present, the better you get and the more confidence you gain. If your subject matter is particularly complex, use situations that are comfortable or familiar to prepare yourself for more challenging audiences.
Finding positive aspects of presenting to a group can minimize the stress. Enjoy your group!