Tips and Advice from Presentation Professionals
By Ty BoydIf you're hoping to get rid of your fear of speaking in front of others, forget it. I've trained executives in 30 countries how to improve their speaking and presentation skills, and I've spoken on five continents to more than a million people. I still get nervous before a speech or presentation. So does every other executive I know.
Great speakers have some qualities in common. They have inner fire. They speak with authority. They connect with the audience through storytelling. They use their voices well. And they know how to prevent fear from overpowering them.
These tips about managing your fear can help you improve your next presentation, whether it's to an audience of a thousand or just to the boss.
* Before the presentation, borrow relaxation techniques from yoga, biofeedback and meditation to calm yourself. Here's one exercise. In the privacy of your office or home, tense all your muscles, one by one, then loosen them. Begin with your toes. Curl them tightly, hold for a count of five, then relax. Appreciate how relaxation feels. Repeat with your calves, thighs, stomach muscles, up to your face. Allow the tension to drain out of you as you release each tensed muscle.
Use your breathing to generate calm assurance. Breathe deeply into the diaphragm, not just into the chest. Fill your torso with breath, then exhale. As you do, imagine you're gently blowing out your tension and fears. Breathe in calm and confidence.
* Fear is a habit. You can establish a new habit by faking it until you make it. The simple task of walking through your fear - doing what you fear, then doing it again - transforms your fear into courage.
* Once you're in front of your audience, remember that most of us don't show our nerves. You likely look more comfortable than you feel. Confidence and nervousness aren't mutually exclusive. You can feel nervous on the inside but still have confidence.
Look out at those faces and see that the audience is on your side. The audience rarely wants or needs all the power we give them. Sometimes you may be in an adversarial relationship with your audience, but not often. Most of the time, they want to like you. They want to think you're smart and entertaining. They will meet you halfway.
Do your part by never telling the audience you're nervous, or that you haven't had time to think about what you're planning to say. When you do that, you create fear in them - fear that you'll fail and they'll have to see your failure.
* One of the most useful strategies is to focus on the audience's needs rather than on yourself. Don't think, "Will they like me? Will they think I know what I'm talking about?" Instead, remind yourself that what you have to say is valuable. Figure out how you can deliver your message in a way your audience will hear. Channel your fear into passion and energy for your subject. Focus on your passion and energy, not on yourself.
* Reinforce your connection with audience members by seeking a positive response as quickly as possible. Ask for comments or raised hands. Initiate a group activity. The sooner you can get a positive response, the quicker your anxiety level will drop.
* Be vulnerable. Many people, especially men, have been trained to believe we give away our power when we allow our emotions or imperfections to show through. But by being vulnerable, you let people see who you really are. And you put yourself on the line for something you believe in passionately.
Vulnerability can be a cornerstone of your power.
* Stop trying to be perfect. The fact is, you've never been perfect. You'll never be perfect. So if your benchmark is to be perfect, you'll fail every time. Make your goal to be the best you can be at this moment. Don't confuse excellence with perfection.
* Compensate for your fear by coming prepared. Practice, practice, practice your presentation before you give it. That preparation will kick in and prevent a poor performance. Don't believe it? I'm still alive because it's true.
I once gave a speech at Radio City Music Hall after a nearly sleepless night. Before the speech, the stage hands warned me three times they had dropped the orchestra pit to clean it. They told me precisely how far I could walk without walking right off the stage.
I delivered my opening lines, the audience was incredibly responsive, and I was fired up. In an attempt to create greater intimacy with the huge audience, I began to inch forward. The next thing I knew, I looked down to see that my toes were literally hanging over the stage edge. I glanced down three stories to where the rest of the stage was being cleaned.
Somehow, my practice had been so thorough that I continued to give my talk. But my body froze. All I could do was stand stark still until someone realized what had happened and raised the stage.
My practice enabled me to keep delivering my message. Your practice will, too.
* After I've prepared myself to the best of my ability, right before the presentation, I wash away doubt and fear by thinking, "So what?" The audience may not respond as I would like. So what? The event may not come off perfectly. So what? If I've followed these steps, I'll be in great position to do my very best. And so will you.
Ty Boyd of The Excellence in Speaking Institute
Ty Boyd is founder and CEO of The Excellence in Speaking Institute in Charlotte, N.C. Ty has taught executives in 30 countries how to improve their speaking and presentation skills. He has delivered keynotes and conducted seminars on five continents to more than a million people. Ty is one of the few speakers worldwide to receive the speaking industry's three highest honors, including the Oscar of the National Speakers Association -- The Cavett Award. He is also a member of Speakers Roundtable, a by-invitation-only group of the top 20 professional speakers in the nation.