It is perfectly natural to feel a bit nervous before making a presentation. Even a seasoned professional may feel a butterfly in his/her stomach. There are two main reasons we feel nervous before we speak to a new audience. If we feel uncomfortable or are not very familiar with the subject at hand, we get nervous. We don’t know if we can handle a question from the audience. If we don;t know the audience at all, we feel a bit unease.
The best way to deal with these two main causes is very simple. Learn your subject well and get to know the audience before your presentation. Make sure you know the subject as well as you know the back of your hand. Gather as much background information as possible about the subject so that your self confidence is high. You don’t include all your knowledge in your presentation. You keep it in your head.
Get to know your audience before you speak. Mingle with the crowd if possible. Engage in small talk with individual members of the audience. Once you have done that, the audience will cease to become “total strangers” to you and it will be easier for you to “have a conversation” with the audience when you are making your presentation.
How to handle nervousness before and during your presentation?
First thing to remember: Don’t let them see you sweat. The best antidote to nervousness is a combination of knowledge and preparation. If you know the topics being presented, you will be able to speak about it with confidence. If you have done your homework and have thought about the questions that might be asked of you at the presentation, you will be less nervous. It is common to have stage fright. Even accomplished public speakers feel that anxiety pang before getting on the podium. They have butterflies in their stomachs and sweaty hands – just like everybody else. The nervousness comes from a fear of the unknown – of not knowing how a group of strangers will react to their presentation. It is a very natural and normal response. All speakers have it. What sets the good speakers apart from the crowd is that they are able to manage or minimize that fear. Here are some practical ideas on how to do just that:
- An effective way to overcome your nervousness is to think about the last time you accomplished something with great confidence. Relive that moment in your mind. Some people have found that if they “anchor” that feeling of confidence to some tangible action like tucking at their sleeves or holding onto a pointer, they can relive that same confidence moment during the presentation.
Another very effective way to overcome stage fright is to get to know your audience. Try to learn as much as possible about your clients and their organization. At a minimum, get background information about the company. Find out what products it makes or service it provides. It is exactly like going to a job interview. You want to impress your future employer with your knowledge of his company. If you know the names of the people on the selection panel, Google them and find out more about them. The point here is to make yourself feel as comfortable as possible about the people to whom you are going to be presenting. It makes your future clients a little bit less like complete “total strangers” to you. This is the reason many successful public speakers make a point of mingling with the audience before getting up on the podium.
Try to focus on the presentation and not on yourself. It is not all about you. Remember that your future clients are judging your presentation based on your knowledge and ability to answer their questions. They are not there to rate you as an orator.
Establish and maintain eye contact with your clients. Speak to them as if they are your colleagues or friends. The more “contacts” – both verbal and non-verbal – you have with your audience, the less they seem like “total strangers” to you.
Remember that stage fright is most pronounced before you speak. It is a feeling generated by uncertainty. People who are not able to overcome their stage fright often believe erroneously that the fear they have before they speak will get worse once they get on the podium. The reverse is true. The butterflies in your stomach will fly away and your sweaty hands will dry up once you get into talking about topics that you know so well. Also remember that very often your audience will not even notice how you nervous you are. That’s why you don’t want to let them see you sweat! We are often a much harsher judge of our own performance.
Note: This is an excerpt from Norman’s book “Connecting with Your Future Clients”.