Almost everyone feels a bit nervous about giving presentations or a speech before a group. Some people would rather undergo a colonoscopy than experience the nerves of giving a speech. And this isn't helped when you hear common phrases such as "death by PowerPoint" or the groans of dissatisfaction from team members when they realise the training they have to attend is a presentation.
So, follow these steps for preparation and delivery, and you can transform your nervousness into winning presentations.
What's your point?
What's the purpose of your presentation? There are many reasons to make a speech or deliver presentations, and you need to define your goal clearly. Your reason could impact how positive or anxious you feel about giving it, so be precise.
Do you have to deliver bad news to a client? Do you require a decision from your superiors or an investor on a problematic business situation? Or do you have a solution and want to convince people? Are you trying to sell a solution or product?
Most presenters are trying to persuade their audience to buy into specific ideas or a product or service. They must sufficiently inspire and motivate listeners to take action or give the green light to act on suggested solutions. You need to lead your audience through the decision-making process so members can go through it with you. Unless they believe they "own" the decision, they won't act upon it. It's critical to avoid spelling everything out for them. Let them "see" what the problems are and which decisions are needed. They will then be happy to engage in finding solutions and enthusiastic about acting on them.
Who are you talking to?
Your audience is not merely composed of the people you'll face at your presentations. It also includes those who may be influenced or affected by your proposal. Before you think about what to say, you must determine who your audience is and what they'll need from you to buy into your argument.
Similar to when writing sales copy, make sure you're selling the benefits of your solution—not just the features. For example, if you are presenting a new programme to your senior management team that will save the company time and money, this is what you should emphasise before the features of the programme. It will appeal to your audience much more than any discussion of actual program features." Another example, if you are presenting to potential investors for your business, lead with the returns the investors can expect or how your business will benefit their existing portfolio.
Whether we like to admit it or not, as humans, we are inherently selfish, so always remember, "what's in it for me? (WIIFM).
Take the audience on a journey
Most of the time, it's wise to open by introducing yourself and then using a story that reveals a picture of the problem at hand. Stories engage people, especially if they are personal and real. They create an authentic connection and grab attention. Remember: Your first 30 seconds are the most crucial.
Follow up your story with an honest analysis of the problem and back it up with reliable data. The Internet makes this part of your task easy, but be cautious about spending too much time on stats. The last thing you want to do is bore your audience with too much data.
Then, present the solution. This is the "good stuff," as people want to know relief is in sight.
Try to keep your presentations short and sweet. There is no ideal time; this depends entirely on the subject, but people have short attention spans and limited time so try to get to your point in the shortest time necessary.
Things to remember
If you use images, infographics or other graphics, don't become overly attached to them. They should supplement your talk and illustrate key points, not deliver the presentation for you. Limit text to subheadings, which should be large enough to read from the back of the room and avoid having every word of your presentation on the screen. This is distracting and gives the impression people could have just read what you had to say rather than attend the talk. Furthermore, refrain from talking to the screen rather than the audience.
Use notes if you need to but try to ensure you make eye contact with the people in the room. This increases your connection and builds a deeper level of trust.
And finally, always be prepared for the possibility of a technological failure; bring handouts and have an alternative way to deliver your talk in case there's no screen.
Handling those pesky nerves
You will often find nerves quickly dissipate once you start talking, especially when it's a subject you are passionate about, so here are some additional tips to use before you get out there.
Some experts suggest memorising the first 60 seconds of your speech. However, this can sometimes make you sound scripted or unnatural. Although, if you are structuring your presentation as we recommended, you're likely to be opening by introducing yourself, and sharing a personal story and the reason for the presentation, so this shouldn't need too much remembering and will sound authentic.
Some people are also tempted to tell their audience how nervous they are feeling, often apologising at the start, but try not to do this as it's essential you come across confident and clear to ensure your listeners follow you on the journey. Furthermore, try not to fidget or fiddle with your hair, clothes or body parts. Practice your speech in front of a mirror as often as you can, and minimise nervous tics by standing behind a podium, if necessary.
And finally, use breathing techniques to help manage your anxiety before stepping out on stage. And if you do feel nervous after starting, there is nothing wrong with taking a pause and drawing a deep, grounding breath before continuing.
It's hard to ignore someone who is clearly enjoying themselves and is passionate about what they do, so prepare well, be confident, go out on stage and have fun.