developing your confidence as a presenter...
Most people have far better presentation skills that they think they do, which is why we are great believers in seeing yourself on film - however excruciating that may sound.
In the first place, it is important to recognize what you have - not what you have not. Starting from your natural style you can then look at what to turn up or turn down as necessary. It is also a development strategy that is do-able and sustainable.
When up in front of an audience, most people feel vulnerable, so do encourage those around you to tell you what worked. Do get a trusted colleague or friend to share their honest thoughts about your performance.
Ask them to be kind and kindly constructive, their job is not to destroy any last vestige of hope and dignity. When you mull things over on your own, challenge yourself to try to do the same.
It is really useful to get feedback and to reflect on what you could do differently BUT remember it is still all about your audience. On which bombshell...
What can you do about presentation nerves?
Firstly, you need to know that 99% of presenters, including professional performers, still get nervous about standing up in front of their peers to present. Why wouldn’t they?
What you feel when you stand up in front of people is the urge to either run away or fight - or else you freeze. If you try to deny those feelings you are fighting against your body’s natural response to stress, which is there for a reason.
Accept, acknowledge, adapt, authentic
Rather than playing the Rocky theme tune and trying to deny how terrified you feel. Acknowledge that you will be nervous. In any case, you need the extra energy to communicate, so a certain amount of nervousness is vital for any good presentation.
Accept your feelings rather than try to wish them away through sheer will power! Your next step is to acknowledge what usually happens to you when you're feeling under pressure. Accept that at the moment of lift-off you may sometimes forget your own name, stammer or blush - then have your plan B ready. Find something you could adapt or change about your pattern of behavior to break the spell. Prepare yourself by knowing what you will do if the situation occurs.
If any ‘rabbit-in-the-headlight’ persona creeps up on you, instead of freezing to the spot, move! Walk across the space, pick up a glass of water, sip - put the glass back down again. Anything, to avoid being rooted to the spot, rendered mute.
This response, as well as buying you some time, could also have the added advantage of making you look calm, thoughtful and commanding. It may seem an odd idea, but our bodies seem to feel better when they have some sort of displacement activity to occupy them. Having something to do tends to release tension. Do try it.
Certainly, the start of your presentation is when most of us feel our most insecure, so you could also try holding on to something rooted to the ground. A lectern, the back of a chair - even standing next to something solid may help you feel less wobbly. It may sound strange - who cares if you find something to make yourself feel less vulnerable?
Another much played down nerve quietener is twiddling. Lots of people have been told no to. Personally, I don’t object to a bit of quiet and appropriate twiddling. My twiddle of choice is to play with blue tak. Some people use stress balls, hold a pen, presentation pointers. Something that doesn’t make a clicking noise or become too distracting for your audience is the best idea.
Before you write in to complain that it is absurd to encourage people to display their nervous habits in public, we are saying that whatever you choose to do it obviously needs to be clean and unobtrusive. So, if you stay mindful of how many shapes you have made with the blue tak it’s fine. As long as the comfort blanky itself does not appear from the closet, whatever helps quell the jitters, go for it.
The result of the surge of adrenaline we get when we are faced by a perceived threat can also result in shallow upper chest breathing and tension. Staying conscious of your breathing really helps.
Take slow, deep breaths and slow down your exhalations. If it helps, imagine trying to make the flame of an imaginary candle flicker. It’s almost impossible to panic when you put your attention on how you breathe.
Focusing on your breathing will also help you to slow down. Try to go even slower, it will help you to avoid gabbling. It's a fact that in this heightened state your sense of what is really going on can be distorted, so what seems normal pace to you may sound double quick to your audience.
If you think you speak too quickly, you could tell yourself to try to pause after each section. Counting to 5 in your head after you’ve made a really important point or remembering to take those occasional sips of water could also help.
Take pauses too to gather your thoughts. Not only does the use of the pause help to uphold your status, your audience will also thank you for the time to assimilate and interpret what you are saying.
Back to why it happens. The extra adrenalin is there to help you to stay sharp and ready to engage with your audience. Use it. An athlete would. In any case, who wants to see a complacent presenter who has ceased to care?
In terms of all these suggestions, clearly you’ll decide which ones best suit you and your situation, so do question our well-meant advice and anyone else's that says what you should never or always do. This includes choosing whether you should stand in the same spot that everyone else does or indeed whether or not you have to stand at all.
It also includes how the room has to be set out. If it is okay to do so, why not rearrange the furniture or lay out of the room to make things feel easier?
Everyone will benefit from having a more relaxed and comfortable presenter, so use questions themselves to take you out of the spotlight. They have the dual advantage of taking the pressure off you as presenter and they ensure that the audience feel more included.
You could start by asking a question or presenting bold visuals to grab their attention, rather than putting your nerves on display. Visual aids are there to support you, the clue being in their title.
Remind yourself of all the other ways too that you can support yourself, ones that don’t rely on you being on broadcast. The support of other colleagues, of experts, of planted questions, of activities and things for the audience to work out - all take the pressure off you and help your audience to stay engaged.
Again remember, you don’t have to be perfect! Being prepared and professional is a good enough place to start. Involving your audience in your presentation is what real professionals do.
see it from their perspective
Try to welcome comments and questions however challenging - it’s usually not personal. In any case, active resistance is always preferable to silence. Use it to find out what the other person sees and try to build their perspective into your view of the subject. If you can acknowledge what they have to say it is much harder for them to continue trying to trip you up, if that is their game.
If it is, there is a great deal more to be said on that subject, lots of subtle things you can do to stay in control. Our experience says that having a go with some of the ideas mentioned will help pre-empt badly behaved audiences. When your presentations acknowledge their needs and concerns at the very least you will be offering a thought-provoking dialogue.
Whatever happens - try to end well, even if you feel you've done badly. Firstly, you're probably the worst judge of how you've really done. And secondly, if you finish well, even when you’re unsure of how things have panned out, some people will believe it was actually pretty good. Anyway a good finish may even get you some applause!
Be kind to yourself
Try to be kind to yourself. One of my colleagues talks about PITs and PETs. PIT stands for performance inhibiting thought, PET for performance enhancing thought. Think PETs so that you can avoid digging your own pit.
If you are new to presenting or still feel terribly anxious, try not to over reach yourself in one go. Give yourself a chance to succeed. A few mini presentations that go well will do far more for you than one biggie that leaves you feeling inadequate.
And, if you do need to change a few things? Frame your future options in positive ways. Give yourself things to try, instead of chastising yourself. The alternative is to put all your focus upon NOT doing something. Try to give yourself a few things to do, as opposed to a shopping list of things NOT to do. It’s a far more effective way to progress.
Keep a sense of perspective too. If you are generally seen as professional, things would have to go very horribly wrong for you to scupper your reputation by one presentation.
If you’ve done your homework, related your ideas to your audience and involved them as much as you can - you will have given yourself every chance to be effective and engaging.
For starters, remind yourself of all you know about the subject in hand and how well prepared you are - and good luck!
To read more about delivering great presentations read on...
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