Presenting or public speaking is not for everyone, but it’s becoming a must-have skill, not a nice to have. I know for some, the thought of standing up in front of team members, peer group, colleagues or even friends and family can be one of the most daunting of tasks. So, whether you’re a novice or a seasoned pro, the following seven tips for preparing and delivering the best nerve-busting presentation will act as a powerful learn or reinforcement to set you up for success.
Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, comes 13/100 of the most common phobias. (For anyone interested, arachnophobia, fear of spiders, is #1).
As with anything, the fear of public speaking spectrum ranges from ‘I don’t particularly like it, but I’ve got to it’, right through to ‘I simply cannot do this’, which can often result in lost opportunities personally or professionally, failed job promotions resulting in career limitations, or feeling socially uncomfortable in large groups.
Presenting, mainly to large audiences, is one of my passions. Don’t get me wrong I still get that rush of adrenaline as I prepare to go on stage irrespective of whether I’m talking to thousands or a handful of people.
7 tips for preparing and delivering the best nerve busting presentation
#1 Failing to plan is like planning to fail
You’ve probably heard of the 6P’s…Proper Planning Prevents Particularly Poor Performance. (Check out Failing to Plan is like Planning to Fail blog for more on planning!)
Now, this is the politically correct version of this quote! You can no doubt guess what word could replace ‘Particularly’.
However, the point is well made. The success of your presentation will be in direct proportion to the quality of your planning and preparation.
Mohammed Ali summarised it well when he said;
“The fight is won or lost long away from witnesses. It’s won out there on the road and in the gym long before I danced under these lights”
It’s your planning and preparation before you enter the arena, which makes all the difference.
Think about your audience; who’s going to be in the room? What’s their drivers and motivation for being there? How do you want them to be feeling, thinking and acting during your presentation? What do you want them to be doing at the end and post your session?
Drilling into the detail and knowing your audience will allow you to design a presentation which will deliver the outcome/s you desire.
Practice, practice and practice; I don’t just mean once or twice. Practice it in front of the mirror, in front of family and friends. Ask a colleague to film you on their smartphone or tablet. Watch it back and critique your performance. If you’ve ever watched a TED talk, the presenters will have delivered and practised their presentations hundreds of time before filming.
Remember, amateurs practice until they get it right, professionals practise until they can’t get it wrong!
Know your subject matter and be passionate about your message.
#2 Great presenters are great storytellers
A great presentation is a great story.
And every great story has a START, a MIDDLE and an END, which flows naturally and seamlessly from one part to the next.
Make sure you slot the pieces together for the audience so they can focus on the powerful messages and story you are delivering.
In your opening tell them what you are going to be talking about, in your middle talk about what you want to talk about and then in your Outro summarise what you’ve talked about, the key messages, actions and next steps.
Your role as the presenter is to be a great storyteller and to deliver it with conviction, power and authority. Create intrigue. Engage the audience, ignite their desire and motivation to want to listen – not just logically but emotionally.
To connect people with your story is your highest calling as great presenter.
#3 Script your Power Intro
Most people focus their time and effort into writing the main body of the presentation and don’t put anywhere near enough thought and effort into their opening and yet this is one of the critical parts.
Because you never get a second chance to make a good first impression and the first impression of you as the presenter is your opening.
Come out of the blocks well, and momentum builds. You build instant rapport with your audience, make them feel at ease and set the tone, theme and pace for the remainder of your presentation.
Start badly, and it is tough to get back on track, any initial butterflies or nerves suddenly gain traction, and before you know it, you can be in a downward spiral with no ability to recover the situation.
Yes, your opening is that important!
Script it, memorise it and practice it until you are unconsciously competent with it and can pull it from your memory at a moments notice.
#4 Lead the presentation…you’re in the drivers’ seat!
Most people in life are silently begging to be led, and as the presenter, you are the leader.
Set the agenda at the start as to what you’re going to be talking about. Psychologically this opens the pathway in the minds of the audience, which you can then lead them down as you transition into the main body of your presentation.
If you’ve not done it before you start your presentation, confirm early on your understanding of how much time you have for the session. There is nothing worse than getting partway through or to what you think is the halfway mark for one of the audience to tell you you only have 5 minutes left. Far better to know this at the start, and then you can think on your feet about how you adjust your presentation to fit the time allocation.
As part of the leading process, you decide how you want to deal with questions. Do you want people to save them until the end or do you want to deal with them in the moment?
If I was doing a presentation to pitch for a new piece of business, my preference is always to deal with questions as I go along. I would say something like this;
“Questions. My preference is to deal with them at any point as we go through. I know we only have 45 minutes and I will make sure we finish on time. Does that work for you?”
99.9% of the time you will get a yes, plus there are two key benefits to this approach.
First, it makes the presentation more interactive and engaging, which is a huge positive. Second, it makes it easier for you to answer the questions. Think about it for a moment. It is far better to receive and answer a question in the moment while it is fresh in your mind as opposed to someone asking a question asking at the end about a point you made right at the start of your presentation.
The final thought on leading the presentation is simply this.
MAKE SURE YOU FINISH ON TIME.
Yes, it is in capitals for a reason as it is so important. Finishing too early makes you look like you didn’t plan correctly or have enough valuable content to talk about. Finishing late is a definite no as it makes you look unprofessional.
#5 Write your power outro
This is equally as important as your power intro.
The number of times I have seen presenters who deliver a great presentation – let me correct that – a great intro and main body and then it falls flat at the end.
This never needs to happen, and the simple way to overcome it is to put as much attention and time into creating your power outro as I have suggested in tip #3 with your power intro. One of the most powerful ways to end is with a quote or compelling image which sums up your entire presentation and will stay with your audience long after they leave the room.
As a great presenter, you never decelerate, you must always accelerate over the line with an influential outro that brings your entire presentation to a smooth conclusion.
#6 The number 1 technique for dealing with nerves
When you are tense or nervous, there is a particular state that you go into and a pattern of how you use your body. It’s often referred to as the ‘flight or fight’ state. I’m getting my body ready to fight, or I’m getting my body prepared to flight/run.
Think about it for a moment.
What happens to your breathing? …Short, sharp shallow breaths?
What happens to your mouth? It dries up like a water-starved pond in the middle of a long summer drought.
Your shoulders and body? …Relaxed and calm or hunched up and tense?
The sweaty palms and tapping foot are just further signs of how you use your body and the state you go into when tense or nervous.
Now, this is not the best state to be in when you’re about to deliver. You want to be in the performance zone.
So you need to change your state, and the quickest way to achieve this is by changing your breathing.
Instead of the short, sharp, shallow breaths which are starving your body of the oxygen, it needs to be in the optimum performance zone instantly take control of your breathing cycle by switching it too long, deep and slow breaths on a 20-second cycle. Breath in for 7 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, out-breath for 7 seconds and then hold for 3 seconds.
The great news is this is instant, and it’s the trigger which will positively impact and unravel all the other ways in which you are using your body when in a tense or nervous state.
Repeat the 20-second cycle a minimum of 12 times. Lock in your core, get the oxygen pumping again, drop the shoulders and you will transform your physiology and state to one which is aligned to stepping up and delivering the best nerve busting presentation of your life.
Especially when you do this in parallel with my final tip for you.
#7 The number 2 technique for dealing with nerves
Not only do you have the ‘flight or fight’ challenges, but you also have a little voice in the back of your head, which is talking to you. This is your self-talk. Your “Chimp” as Dr Steve Peters calls it in his book The Chimp Paradox.
At this point, your Chimp voice is not your best friend. He is trying to sabotage your success.
‘Don’t mess this up’,
‘What if I forget what I want to say.’
‘What if someone asks me a question I don’t know the answer to.’
‘Oh god, I wish I didn’t have to do this. I hate speaking in public and to a big audience.’
So, we need to deal with your Chimp and turn him from the derailer to the enabler.
And one way to do it is this is to create an Incantation.
So, what is an incantation?
Well, the first fundamental principle is where you emphasise one letter. The difference between an incantation and incantation!
The mind is a powerful force, and the reality is what you say will be the way! Even if you have been running a negative de-railing programme for years, you can still override it.
For example, I’m sure you’ve heard people run a programme which goes something like this; ‘I’m always late for meeting’. And if you run that negative incantation for long enough, guess what, you’ve got it – you will be late for meetings as your conscious mind does everything to play out the self-fulfilling prophecy you’ve created.
Likewise, if you run the programme with all the negative Chimp messages about your presentation, then I’m sure you can guess what could happen.
But if you created and played over in your mind a positive, empowering incantation that silenced the negative Chimp, then you can have the opposite effect.
A positive incantation that goes something like this;
“I’m about to deliver the best nerve-busting presentation I’ve ever delivered”.
If you had this incantation on playback in your mind repeating 50 times while you’re waiting to kick off your presentation, imagine how pumped up and in the performance zone you will be.
If you apply your incantation in parallel with the techniques and ideas covered in #6, then YOU WILL put yourself firmly in the driver’s seat, and nerves will be a thing of the past.
So, there you have it. Your 7 top tips for delivering the best nerve-busting presentation of your life!
And remember, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” – Carl W. Buechner