Slated to deliver a speech to a tiny group—or your entire organization? If you’re like most of us, no matter the size of your audience, you’re likely to be filled with apprehension. It may help to know that everyone gets nervous before a presentation—absolutely everyone.
Nevertheless, whether you’re addressing friendly team members or an enormous, anonymous group, we have some tried and true tips that should help you overcome your anxiety and deliver a talk that’s polished, professional and memorable.
First, organize your presentation. Come up with a compelling opening (an intriguing story, an unusual fact) that will capture your audience’s attention from the start. Explain upfront how your audience will benefit from your talk. (Because, if it’s not about them, what’s the point?) Now, write out your main ideas, which should build on your opening promise and be backed up with evidence. Finally, compose a hard-hitting conclusion. Avoid slang, jargon and overly technical language.
Now, practice your presentation aloud, over and over. Ask a coworker or friend to listen to your speech. You may be surprised (or possibly upset) at their feedback. Don’t be. Often, we’re simply not good judges of our own work. You’re getting valuable advice to help improve your presentation (its ideas and flow; your body language and tone of voice). Rethink and revise, then read your revised work aloud to your critics, until you’re all pleased with it and it fits your allotted timeframe.
You should also familiarize yourself with the stage or area where you’ll be presenting so there are no surprises the day of. On that day, wear comfortable, but professional, clothing to help you project self-confidence and poise.
As you’re about to begin your talk, take a minute to center yourself. Look out at your audience; wait until you have their attention. As you speak, don’t fidget. Wringing your hands, stepping from foot to foot, or touching your hair, face or clothing are huge distractions. You can, however, use your hands to emphasize important points.
Don’t read your presentation. It’s fine to glance down at notes or a bulleted outline. Reading word-for-word means you’re not looking at/engaging with your audience—and your words will likely sound stilted. You want to keep your tone conversational.
Similarly, if you’re using PowerPoint or a similar presentation software, for a visual presentation, make sure you don’t overload your slides. You want them to punctuate what you’re saying, and help ideas or data resonate, but you want them to listen to you, not just read and ignore your words. Many find the presenter notes function a good way to drop in bullets or targets you want to make sure you hit while you talk, while keeping your slides clean, concise, and engaging.
Follow these suggestions to help make your next presentation enlightening and enjoyable—and help you leave your jitters behind.