Comedian Georgie Jessel said “the human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public…” And if you’re in a leadership position, chances are you find yourself addressing groups often, from the board of directors to your employees and their families at the company picnic.
If you get sweaty palms, a racing heart, fears of forgetting your presentation or embarrassing yourself by not knowing the answer to an audience member’s question, you’re not alone. Here are three techniques you can use to overcome podium panic:
First, prepare in advance. One of the most common mistakes people make is to put off preparing until the night before or even right before the presentation. What happens when you put stressful things off? You feel more tense. So why don’t people start preparing earlier? Because we think, “this is going to be really bad, so why make it last longer by starting early?”
This is understandable, but look at the opposite of that idea … which is that the earlier you begin, the more time you have to master your information and practice it over and over again, so that it becomes comfortable, and you become confident. So begin preparing for your presentation as soon as you become aware that you need to do it.
Second, write out your presentation. It’s surprising how many people will write out a shopping list, but not their presentation … if your presentation is half as important to you as making sure you bring home chocolate chip cookies from the store, write it out. The format you use to do this is less important than the process you go through while you’re doing it.
There are two benefits to writing it out: The first is that it lets you organize and edit the presentation until you get it into a format that you’re happy with. The second is that the more thoughts you keep up in your head, the more mental gymnastics you have to do to keep them organized, which can cause anxiety. The more you write down, the less you have to keep track of in your head.
There are two basic formats for writing presentations out … one is verbatim, and the other is outline form. Try both and see which works best for you. What if you’re in sales and you don’t think you should have notes in front of you? When you get through writing it out, you’ll remember it better, and if you keep some notes with you, you can refer to them instead of telling your prospect you don’t remember or that you have to get back to them.
Third, practice your presentation over and over before you present it. If you think about the most important things you’ve ever said in your life, chances are, you rehearsed them to yourself many times before you said them to the person they involved. Things like proposing marriage, telling your boss that you’re quitting, telling someone you love them for the first time. We say these things over and over again in our heads to get them right and to get comfortable with them for that moment when saying them means the most.
Your presentations are really no different. When you rehearse out loud, you gain confidence With each repetition of the material … you get more comfortable with it … you rely less on your notes … and you’re even training your body, your hands, even your mouth, to deliver your words more successfully each time. And as you rehearse you’ll begin to feel your confidence rise as your competence in presenting skills rises.
Practice your presentation out loud at least four times before you present it for all the marbles. Practice is so essential that political candidates preparing for a debate will practice for hours and hours before the cameras start rolling. Attorneys practice their closing arguments out loud to test them out. Clergy practice their sermons before they get in front of the congregation.
You can practice in front of friends, or a spouse, the Uber driver, or a mirror, or even a tape recorder.
These three methods … preparing in advance, writing it out, and practicing several times are essential to building your comfort with your material, and your confidence in your overall presentation. And the more confident you are, the less anxious you’ll be.
Question: What are your own best practices for public speaking/giving presentations? Comment below!