The worst thing you can do is destroy your credibility, and to do it in front of your industry colleagues is devastating for your career.
Whenever you are presenting, the stakes are high, whether you know it or not. Think of people in the audience that could potentially be the catalyst to the next step in your career. Think of the future of your family, you as provider for them. These thoughts will no doubt create even more stress for you, but there is a solution. There are two ideas and one truth that have worked for me and many others.
There is a lot riding on your presentation, and how you connect with the audience. But it’s not all doom and gloom.
There is a secret, people in the audience want you to succeed. They are all on your side, that is the first thing we need to realise. This took me a long time to understand. Earlier in my career, I always saw the audience as people who wanted to see me fail, but many articles I have read, have shown this to be completely untrue.
See your audience as your friends, not as your judges.
If you have ever felt the wrath of public humiliation, particularly when you were younger, any public setting can be stressful for you to navigate. We make things much bigger in our minds and this contributes to the stress of the presentation. I remember many a sleepless night prior to a big presentation, my adrenalin would be coursing through my veins and by the time the presentation was to be delivered, I was a nervous wreck.
Many times I would receive feedback that I presented well, and that I didn’t look nervous at all, but I wasn’t sure if it was just colleagues being supportive, or colleagues thinking ‘well that’s him out of the running for the next promotion.’
One of the most important quotes I remember from a business presentation skills course I attended was this.
“We all get butterflies in our stomachs, before we present to a crowd, the trick is to make them fly in formation.”
It was quite reassuring to me to know that even the best presenters in the world feel nervous before a big presentation. I must say I never picked up that Steve Jobs was ever nervous, he seemed so in control.
What are the two factors that can assist in removing nervousness?
The first factor that reduces fear and anxiety is breathing, the rate at which you breathe affects your brain. We were told that about 5 minutes prior to getting up to present that we should be breathing more deeply in a set rhythm in through the nose and out through the mouth. Now it is a little difficult to do this deeply when people are close to you, you may end up freaking them out.
The trick is to open your mouth slightly and let the air out slowly and then close your mouth and inhale through the nose. Do this discreetly, so as not to attract attention.
Try it next time you need to stand up to present. Remember five minutes before, so that you have a good rhythm. Paced and deep breathing centres us and brings us into a greater state of awareness and calm.
I quote from the article that I link to below:
“Slow down, and pay attention to your breath. It’s not merely common sense advice. It also reflects what meditation, yoga, and other stress-reducing therapies teach: that focusing on the timing and pace of our breath can have positive effects on our body and mind. A recent study in the Journal of Neurophysiology may support this, revealing that several brain regions linked to emotion, attention, and body awareness are activated when we pay attention to our breath.”
The above quote is from the article below, you can type it into your browser.
At the time we were doing the course, none of the scientific studies were around. The professional running the course found out through years of working with high powered business people what worked for them, and adapted it into our course. So breathing is one way to make the butterflies fly in formation.
Know your stuff backwards and sideways
The second tip for feeling good and confident in front of people is this. Know your stuff. You should be able to present without any presentation aids. If there was to be a complete blackout you should still be able to do your whole presentation to the audience from memory.
I don’t mean memorising it word for word, but knowing what your key points are and what you want the audience to understand. Anticipate questions and read more broadly around the topic you are presenting because sometimes questions can come from related areas.
If you know your stuff, and can confidently answer anticipated questions, being an expert in what you are presenting, will go a long way to removing anxiety.
Breathing and knowing my stuff and reading more broadly around what I am presenting has helped calm me on many occasions. Coupled with the fact that the audience actually wants you to succeed, should assist us all. I hope it can work for you too.