My daughter recently had a presentation coming up where she was going to speak before her class. “Daddy”, she asked, “You do this all the time. Do you get nervous speaking in front of people?” All the time! Everyone gets nervous when speaking in public; the challenge is how do you manage it?
In the movie the Avengers, The Hulk reveals that he is always angry. I, like most people, always get very nervous before a presentation. I hope it’s cancelled (but then I don’t get paid). I hope no one shows up (then I don’t have to speak).
To manage my nerves, there are 5 techniques I regularly employ:
- Don’t Be Arrogant – I gave a speech once without practicing. Why? I had given the exact speech with the same slides one month before. I was sure that I remembered everything; I didn’t. The audience loved the presentation. It lead to more paid presentations. I wanted to tell the audience, “If you liked that, you’ll love it when I prepare!” Even if you gave the same speech yesterday to the same audience, don’t be arrogant. Practice. That leads to my next point…
- Practice – When you practice, you feel more confident. Confidence relaxes you. I suggest that people practice 3 times. If you practice too much, you’ll start to get nervous. You don’t want to memorize every word. Practicing once or twice is just review. Practice so you know the material and can “free style” and just have a conversation. Audience questions won’t throw you off, and you won’t have to stare at the slides.
- Audience – When you know the audience, you get less nervous. Are they small business owners or 3rd graders? If you are speaking to family and friends, you aren’t nervous because you know them. You know how they will react. You know what they expect. You know how to speak to them so they will understand and remember what you said. Knowing the audience limits surprises.
- Be Prepared! – It’s not just the Boy Scout motto, it’s also good public speaking advice. My computer has locked up during the presentation. The Wifi stopped working. My remote control didn’t control. Just keep going. Be prepared so when (not if) bad things happen, you keep speaking. I saw Dr. Randal Pinkett (Rhodes Scholar and winner of The Apprentice) speaking at a conference when all the lights went out. He cracked a joke about the Superbowl and kept talking. The epitome of preparation!
- Breathe – Relax and take a deep breath before every speech or presentation. Deep breaths help slow the heart beat and regulate blood flow to the brain. When you practice breathing, it helps your body remember to breathe during the presentation. If you breathe during the speech, you’ll slow down and enunciate your words (hint: the audience likes that). If breathing works for elite athletes, it can work for you.
Remember, if you are nervous, that’s normal. It means you’re human, and there is no pressure to be a super hero. Transform your nervousness into the skills necessary for a great presentation.
Scientifically Speaking, of course.
Next Week: Speak Like Oprah (Forget Steve)