Ask Liz: How do I combat presentation nerves?

Ask Liz: How do I combat presentation nerves?
I have been asked to do a presentation in front of my whole agency in a couple of weeks’ time, and my fear of public speaking is making the prospect terrifying. I've thoroughly researched the topic that I'm presenting, but cannot shake the feeling that I will mess-up. Any advice on how to calm my nerves?

How wonderful that you have been given this opportunity.

The first thing to say is that you are not absolutely alone in your fear of public speaking. Even RSC actors experience a fear and dread before stepping out to tread the boards. But even the most seasoned actors will tell you that it is that little bit of adrenaline that gives them the final push onto the stage.

As we know, presentations are all part and parcel of agency life; the way to win new business is usually through a pitch and regular meetings with clients often involve a presentation of some kind. Sorting out this fear now is a great way to prepare for these moments. 

Here are my top tips:

1. Practice

  • The best advice is to practice, practice, practice. You cannot do enough preparation. Also make sure that you use all opportunities in your daily life to speak; volunteer to lead parts of meetings, make sure that you speak at every client meeting.

  • Try recording your voice. How do you sound? Too fast? Too slow? Too monotone? Practice different sounds and see how they feel. If you are feeling brave, you can also video yourself. Are you looking as relaxed as you think you are? What is your face doing? What emotion are you conveying – how do you look?

  • You can also visually prepare. Imagine where you will stand and where you audience will be sat during the presentation. If it is possible, walk about in the space, perhaps late at night when everyone has gone home, and check out how it feels for you. I once had to present at an all company meeting in a cinema and had not been told that I would be standing in the dark – I arrived on the stage and realised way too late that I could not read my notes!

I read somewhere that it takes one hour of preparation for every minute of presentation time.

2. You are the expert of your material

  • The key thing to remember when you are presenting, is that you know your subject better than your audience. Make sure that you are comfortable with the ebb and flow of your material, so that you know where you are going with your story.

3. Act like an actor

  • It is our bodies that do all the talking and not the words which fall from our mouths. Make sure that you connect with your audience. Make lots of eye contact, look around the room, make sure that you look left, right and to the back and the front.

  • Stand up straight with your shoulders back, just as your mum always told you. This will help your breathing and will give you confidence. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and stay grounded.

  • If you want to move around, make sure you feel comfortable with your presentation.

4. The technicalities

Find out if you will be using a handheld microphone or if you will be mic'd up. If you are not familiar with these, see if you can have a quick practice. Handheld mics can take a bit of getting used to – how close should you hold it to your mouth? Who are you following and who will be passing you the mic? Where do you go when you have finished speaking?

5. Be Yourself

Above all, be yourself. Tell a story about yourself if it fits in with your content.

Smile and enjoy as it
 will be over before you know it!

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