“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” -Jerry Seinfeld
Let’s start by agreeing that everyone gets at least a little nervous before speaking in public. I’ve seen people who make a living out of talking in front of crowds trying to shake off the jitters before going on stage. It’s something that many people deal with and many people overcome. Yes, it would be nice if you didn’t have to do it, but these days it’s not too likely you’ll get through professional life without having to give a presentation. Whether it’s a board room presentation or speaking in front of a conference, the thought of it can be terrifying no matter your age or how successful you are. But there are ways that you can deal with that anxiety so it doesn’t take over and you can get through your presentation effectively.
Don’t over-rehearse Knowing your material is obviously extremely important for a successful presentation. You should know your key points frontwards and backwards. When you feel confident that you have the key points down, rehearse out loud a couple times. Once you can do that, stop rehearsing. When you over-rehearse and start to memorize the presentation word for word, then you’re in trouble. A presentation should be conversational, not a monologue. It may feel good to have the entire thing memorized in your head, but if you slip up you’re likely to get completely lost. So have a loose approach to your delivery and just focus on hitting your key points.
Visualize the presentation A lot of presentations use sideshows as a visual aid, which is certainly something to consider. And as much as you don’t want to memorize your speaking points, memorizing the slides is a must. You need to know exactly what is on each slide, what order they come in and when you’ll be using them. If you want something to obsess over, obsess over this. Visualize your presentation. How will it look to others? How do you want it to look to others? Visual aids are there to help you, so you don’t want them throwing you off.
Don’t be surprised I learned this lesson the hard way. I had a public speaking engagement that I felt totally prepared for. I was confident in my content, I knew it well, and my anxiety was decently in check. Then I took the stage in a room I’ve never been in and in front of a crowd much larger than I anticipated. I panicked. Don’t make the same mistake. Know your audience beforehand. How many people will be there? Who are they? It may not always be possible, but if you can see the venue, the boardroom, or the classroom you’re speaking in, make sure you do. Don’t let anything be a surprise if you can avoid it.
It’s not about you The main worry that causes public speaking anxiety comes down to one question; “What will they think of me?” Get that question out of your head, because it doesn’t matter. You are there presenting ideas, not yourself. The people listening to your presentation are not there to pick you apart. They haven’t come to judge you. If you can get past your self-conscious concerns, you’ll have a lot less to worry about. Just remember; you’re the only one in the room speaking, so you control the room.
Sleep You want to be prepared, you want to be sure you’re not missing anything, but you also need rest. Fight that desire to pull an all-nighter and instead get a solid night’s sleep. You may think that your nerves won’t allow that but you’d be surprised, anxiety is draining work. Just know no matter how much you cram into your head the night before, it will be gone come presentation time if you don’t get a decent rest. Know your stuff in advance and let yourself sleep.
So there are a few tips to help you with your next presentation. As I said, everyone has at least a bit of apprehension with public speaking, and unfortunately there’s no quick cure. So instead, learn to manage the anxiety and over time, like most things, it will become easier.