dont panic

Deal with your fear of public speaking

post6Glossophobia is something you may be able to relate to. It’s the fear of public speaking. And you probably know that most people feel very anxious or nervous before important presentations. For many people, this anxiety can extend to informal team meetings or one on one presentations to colleagues and clients, even if such events occur regularly.

If you are one of the many people who feels nervous before a presentation or business pitch you will probably know that this nervousness can present itself in a variety of different forms. Symptoms can be as mild as sweaty palms, a dry mouth, blushing or a thumping heart beat, through to physical illnesses such as the shakes, vomiting or fainting (to name just a few!). No wonder public speaking is considered to be up there with some of the greatest fears in the world! These awful symptoms can significantly reduce the amount of enjoyment you derive from communicating at a high level with others and often leads to your desire to dramatically improve your presentation skills.

Well it’s time for some good news. Presenting can be fun! Managing nerves is mostly to do with your approach, regardless of whether you are presenting at work or to a huge conference audience.

Fight or flight

In 1915 the concept of fight or flight was developed by Dr Walter Connon to describe an animal’s response to threat. Essentially you can think of it like this: when you are faced with stress (presenting is very stressful for many people) you have two choices:

1. Fight it. You can fight it, in other words, you can soldier on and push through your discomfort to beat the feeling. If you fight, you can make the most of the opportunities that present, and step up and be heard so people know what you are capable of.

2. Run away. You could choose to flee, that is, you could run away, avoid presenting, and delegate the job to a colleague. If you flee you will avoid the conflict, but you will also pass up the chance to showcase your professional expertise so no one will know what you actually think or feel about the subject and you may find yourself being passed over for future opportunities.

Couple this understanding of fight or flight from Dr Connon with a concept described by Dr Hans Selye, who discovered and documented the fact that as humans we experience two main kinds of stress. Dr Selye called these two types distress and eustress.

Distress is the bad or negative kind of stress that weakens and disables you.

Eustress is a positive or good stress that enables you and makes you powerful.

The main way to turn your distress into eustress is to use the power of your mind and your self-talk, and reframe in your mind that you are a strong and confident presenter and you will do a great job today.

Understandably, most people would love to ‘eliminate’ the feeling of nervousness when they present or pitch. Whilst some people say it’s good to have some nervousness I tend to disagree. I believe that it’s good to have endorphins and some adrenalin pumping through your body before a presentation – this helps you to perform at your best. But nervousness – who needs it?

Don’t even think about picturing your audience naked!

You can use a number of excellent techniques to reduce your nerves and increase your enjoyment when presenting, and they don’t include imagining your audience naked! What a laugh! I’ve been told stories time and time again of presenters who were told by their boss to imagine their audience naked, and they either froze on the stage or felt more nervous than ever. In fact, unbelievably I overheard a mother advising her 5 year old to imagine everyone naked (this was the best advise she could think of I suppose) at the local school public speaking competition this year – OMG! Imagining your audience naked won’t work, so please don’t do it!

So, it’s time for some good news. Presenting can be fun! Presentation Skills can be learnt. Managing nervousness is mostly to do with your approach, regardless of whether you are presenting one on one to a client or to a large audience in a conference environment. There are a number of excellent techniques that you can use to reduce your nerves and increase your enjoyment when presenting. Here are some of my presentation skills tips for you:

1. Think about your audience before you design your message

2. Structure your message with your audience in mind

3. Rehearse

4. Relax your muscles so that you aren’t holding tension in your body

5. Breathe diaphragmatically

6. Focus on your audience

7. Use the power of your mind

1. Think about your Audience Before you Design your Message

It’s critical that you remember the role of a presenter is to shift the audience from their current, to your desired state. So before you even think about creating your PowerPoint slides or our presentation notes take a moment to think about what your audience will be thinking and feeling before your present and what do you want them to think and feel when you’re finished.

2. Structure your message with your audience in mind

The role of the business presenter is to SERVE your audience. In other words, you are welcome to say what you want to say, just say it in a way that resonates with your audience. Ideally when you present at work you want to engage their senses and compel them to action. I recommend Bernice McCarthy’s 4Mat model as a way of structuring your message.

3. Rehearse

The only way to appear confident and engaging to your audience is to be confident and engaging! They way you appear confident and engaging is to know your content and look at people rather than referring to your slides or notes. Unfortunately there is no magic wand that we can wave to make you know your content! The only way to know what you want to say when you present is to rehearse your message. And then rehearse your message. And then once you are finished, rehearse your message some more! I know! I can hear you moan….’but I don’t have time!’ Yes, I know it’s hard to make time to rehearse and I’ll be honest I don’t enjoy this part of being a speaker either! There’s NO OTHER WAY! You MUST rehearse over and over again, particularly the opening and close because the opening and close of your message is when you are most likely to be out of your comfort zone.

4. Breathe diaphragmatically

Breathing is something we take for granted. We think we breathe all the time. Actually, diaphragmatic breathing takes some practice.

The thing to remember when you breathe is this: when you breathe in, your diaphragm should extend up and out. When you breathe out, your diaphragm should retract and move towards your back. It’s like you are breathing right down into your bottom! Try this lying down to ensure you are practicing correctly.

Once you know you are breathing for health, try to do this at least 10 conscious times a day. It will eventually become second nature, which means you’ll breathe naturally when you have to present. The idea with breathing when it comes to presentation skills, is that to begin with you may have to make it quite a conscious thing for yourself. In other words, you have to make a big effort to breathe deeply and often.

5. Relax your muscles

Relaxing is something that takes lots of practice. Just think about all those millions of Australians who engage in some kind of meditation, yoga or massage to try and wind down.

If you present at work a lot you probably can’t go off for a massage the hour before every client pitch, workplace presentation or meeting.

So what can you do to help yourself? Try to ascertain where you hold your tension. Maybe your shoulders? Neck? Face? Many people tend to hold tension in the buttock area. Once you’ve isolated the problem area, try tensing and relaxing the muscles associated with that area twice each. Do this just before you present – you’ll be amazed at the difference.

6. Focus on your audience

Truth be known, it is actually quite difficult to focus fully on your audience. Even some of the greatest public speakers don’t do it very well. Once you work out how to do it – it will ensure you are an engaging, connected, charismatic presenter every time. Sound good? Sound worth it? Audience focus (simple as it sounds) is typically rated the most popular part of my presentation skills program – there’s more to it than meets the eye (pardon the pun!)

If you want to reduce your own ‘nerves’ and really ‘connect’ with the people in your audience – this is the technique for you! When you feel nervous, I recommend you try really hard to keep reminding yourself that the presentation is not about you, it’s all about your audience. In other words, if you can do what you can to focus your attention on how your audience is feeling and what they need to hear from you, immediately your nerves will begin to dissipate. This is because you have less space in your brain for analysing your own consciousness. In other words, I suggest you try to become more focused on your audience and you will be less preoccupied with yourself. To focus fully on your audience try the following steps:

1. Claim your space confidently and charismatically.
2. Imagine there is a ‘bubble’ around you and your audience.
3. Throw your attention out into the bubble.
4. Connect through ‘whites of the eyes’ eye contact. In other words, really ‘see’ the person or people you are speaking with.

If you are fully focusing on your audience then you won’t feel as nervous – this is because you won’t be aware of feeling anything. If you are focused on yourself, you’ll be aware of your nervousness.

7. Watch your ‘self-talk’

A client in one of my presentation skills training programs said to me that they called their ‘self-talk’ ‘the idiot on board’! It’s true that for many of us the little voice in our head does little to calm our nerves and have us feeling bullet-proof. Many of the best presenters use the power of positive thinking before they present. If you learn how to harness your potential then you’ll feel a lot more confident and will achieve amazing results in your workplace presentations.

Imagine you are a successful, confident, engaging presenter. Be aware of all the positive characteristics in your personality and display them as you present. (Please note you should not let this technique change you into something that you are not. Rather, it should help to bring out an inherent quality that you believe you are not displaying). Some examples include: a tall guy who projected an image of a gentle giant before presenting. A woman I know thinks of the warm rays of the sun and instantly feels the ‘warmth’ in her personality coming through. Another presenter watches Jim Carey movies before an event and he believes brings out his ability to be entertaining. Next time you have to present, consider spending a minute focusing on your personality traits that make you feel confident and terrific about yourself.

Each of these techniques combined will help you feel more confident and ‘ready’ for your presentation. Do these things and you will stand out – head and shoulders above your colleagues and competitors! Happy Presenting!!!


© Michelle Bowden 2020.  Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. Michelle is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), co-creator of the PRSI (a world-first psychometric indicator that tests your persuasiveness at work), best-selling internationally published author (Wiley), and a regular commentator in print, radio and online media.

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