Guest Blog Post by Fiona Cutts
Nowadays, it is a given in most professions and jobs that you will be required to make a presentation to an audience, often as part of the job interview itself. At the same time, 74% of us suffer from some kind of anxiety when we have to be ‘up front’ giving a talk.
I was very much one of those people. I was so shy I could scarcely say my name in a room full of people, let alone deliver a presentation. I have changed to the point where I am now not only comfortable being on stage, I actually enjoy it and, I am empowering others to do the same.
Here are six of my top tips managing for your next talk and enjoying it, too.
1) Dress for success
We have all heard it – first impressions count. Your audience will see you before you start you speaking and will already be forming an opinion of you. If you choose to dress in the way that a successful person giving that talk would dress, you will be training your audience (and you!) to see you as that successful person.
I would suggest practicing this by wearing clothes around the house that successful speakers wear. You may feel strange at first, but by the time you get to your talk you can be comfortable in these ‘success’ clothes.
2) Be present
If you dislike giving talks, you would most likely rather not be there. And that is what occurs: you are not fully present. When you are not present, it is hard for the audience to hear you and hard for them to engage with you. It tends to lead to what you most fear: the audience dismissing you.
Try these simple tactics to help you be more present, even if you are still feeling that you hate speaking in public. Be aware of your breathing and deliberately breathe lower in your abdomen. We tend to breathe fast and high up in our chests when we are scared, and this makes us appear weak. This technique is helpful to practice now, before you have to give your next talk. Start to notice in your day-to-day life how you are breathing, change it and be aware of the effect it has on you. When we are breathing fully, we are more fully present.
I would also suggest planting your feet firmly on the ground, probably further apart than you normally would. Imagine you have roots going down into the ground. These visualized roots will make you feel stable and more present for whatever occurs.
3) Connect with your audience
Mostly when people give talks, they fall into one of two categories, neither of which is very effective. When you know the alternative, you will find it easy to have every person in the room engaged and attentive.
Those who are nervous speaking in public tend to be ‘neutral’ with the result that people find it hard to engage with them and sometimes even hard to hear them. Others ‘push’ what they are saying at their audience, which tends to make the audience defensive and resistant.
A really effective way to connect with your audience is to ‘pull energy’. You can do this by imagining an energetic connection that comes from behind your audience, through them, through you, to behind you. Don’t worry if you don’t completely understand this or find it strange. This technique is what a lot of great speakers and performers do very naturally.
4) Deal with nerves
It is so common to be afraid of public speaking that we don’t even question this reaction. Someone who is confident in this area is truly the exception. So, when you feel those bubbles of anticipation in your stomach, when you feel your mind racing, ask yourself “Is this fear or is this excitement?”
It is often the case that we have confused excitement and fear. Often, as children, our parents assume we are afraid of something when we are actually experiencing excitement. And yet we assume are parents are right that we must be afraid and act accordingly.
Just knowing this is likely to begin to change your situation, and you may still have things going on in your body: ‘butterflies’ in the stomach, shaking hands, or shaking everywhere! I suggest before you go on stage finding somewhere where you can move around a bit, shake your body a bit – to release some of that tension. And when you get up on stage, feel free to move around; this can help discharge that energy and allow you to feel more relaxed.
And importantly, if you do shake, I recommend not making it significant. Your audience will follow your lead – if you don’t make it significant, neither will they.
5) Let go of perfectionism
The need to be perfect is one of the things that can hold us back the most, in front of an audience and in every aspect of our lives.
When we are trying to be perfect, part of our mind is always alert, monitoring to see if we are achieving this ideal. Letting go of this vigilance means that we then have that part of our mind present with what we are presenting rather than analysing and criticising ourselves.
If you do make a mistake, the best thing you can do is smile and apologise, which can draw in the audience in and bring them on your side.
In the end, a good presentation is much more about the overall impression you make then about the detail of every word you say being correct and perfect.
6) Keep them reaching for more
Often, as a result of the fear of being inadequate, we over prepare, having enough material for several talks and attempt to tell the audience everything. Our listeners can feel like they are drowning in the information and start to resist the speaker.
If you are able to keep your presentation succinct, this can really engage the audience, keep them asking questions and looking for more, which is a great outcome for you.
These are the best of the tips I wish I had had all those years ago when just saying my name in a room full of people overwhelmed me. I hope they are useful to you in your desire to speak with confidence and enjoyment.
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