When it comes to presentation skills, there is one thing we all know: People fear public speaking more than death. This concept has become so cliché that it’s easy to forget its significance.
Public speaking anxiety is a very real problem for far too many people—and this fear affects more than just your ability to speak in front of large groups. It impacts every “communication encounter” you have. For example, think about how many ways you’ve communicated with people just today. Now, consider how your public speaking anxiety has (even slightly) impacted the way you share ideas in a meeting or sell your qualifications in an interview. In a hyper-competitive job market, these differences may be small, but they can have a huge impact on your career success.
With communication going from “soft skill” to essential skill status, now is a perfect time to overcome your fear and feel empowered. Here are three ways you can transform into a power presenter today.
1. Do Some “Market” Research
Presentations have many moving parts. Just the thought of having to say the “right things” to the “right audience” in the “right way” can feel overwhelming. Preparation is an ideal way to combat this stress. Knowledge is power, and the more you know about your audience, the better you’ll feel.
Remember, every time you make a presentation, you’re taking your thoughts (in this case, products) and bringing them to the marketplace of ideas. For your ideas to stand out, you can’t treat your audience like a group of forced listeners. Instead, you have to think of them as your communication consumers. Your “customers” have wants and needs (a.k.a. things they expect from your presentation), and it’s your job to do some market research to figure out what those needs are and how to meet them.
The next time you’re preparing a presentation, take 15 minutes to get into the minds of your customers. Who are these people? What are their backgrounds? Why are they hearing your presentation? If you’re presenting to external groups, take a look at their websites or articles written about them. What is in their mission or value statements? Do their websites display content as text or video? All of this information is data you can use to shape your message.
If you think about these details before your presentation, you won’t have to spend time fretting about them when it’s show time. This allows you to be more focused in the moment, and you’ll signal to your audience that you want to do more than just share ideas—you want to build a relationship.
2. Create a Feedback Team
If speaking in front of others is on the top of your most-feared activities list, then receiving feedback about your presentation is probably a close second. No one enjoys having someone else point out their flaws—especially if your confidence is already shaky.
This fear of “hearing how you did” creates a vicious cycle. When you don’t test your ideas in front of others, it’s easy to get trapped in your head. And when you get caught in your head, it’s easy for an audience to perceive you as uninterested and unprepared—even when the opposite is true!
Try to look at feedback as an asset-building activity. Start by finding two or three people who are willing to serve as your “feedback team.” It doesn’t matter if they view themselves as expert presenters—anyone can tell you what they like or don’t like. This information from others can be powerful, especially if you ask for it before your moment in the sun. Too often, feedback comes after the fact, which can make it hard to integrate in time. Luckily, when you seek out a feedback team beforehand, you’ll learn what a potential audience will think about your presentation. And suddenly, you have the information you need to adapt your presentation and make it more audience-centered (translation: awesome).
Plus, asking for pointers can have a secondary benefit. People who actively seek feedback come off as confident presenters who want to maximize the impact of their ideas. Not to mention, by serving as the spearhead of your feedback team, you will quickly become the person others view as the go-to presenter in your office.
3. Rethink Your Gestures
Communication is all about relationship-building—that’s why successful presentations share many traits with successful first dates. You can’t build a relationship unless you make the other person feel comfortable and valued, and it’s nearly impossible to give a killer presentation if it looks like you’d rather be somewhere else. That’s why, when you’re presenting, your body language is far more important than any words you can say.
Many speakers fall prey to using “closed gestures.” You’ve probably seen these gestures or used them yourself. When you hunch over and close yourself off, you create a subconscious wall between you and your audience.
When giving your next presentation, focus on using “open gestures.” Think about gestures that are wide enough that every person in the room falls within the distance between your hands. Gestures like these are nonverbal signals that you’re opening up to your audience and want everyone to feel welcome. Essentially, you’re inviting your audience to be part of a unique experience, rather than the same presentation they’ve heard a million times before. When your audience feels comfortable, you create a sense of intimacy that helps make even the largest rooms feel small. When you can connect with your audience like this, you can’t help but appear confident and in control.
There is no one silver bullet for eliminating public speaking anxiety. However, a strong first step is recognizing that you have the power to overcome that fear. All it takes is a bit of practice and the right mindset to succeed.
Photo of person speaking courtesy of Shutterstock.
Stan Polit, MA, is a nationally-recognized speaker and communication coach. As a three-time collegiate national champion public speaker and a two-time international championship winning coach, he uses his extensive experience to help people overcome their communication challenges. He currently teaches a career-focused public speaking workshop called 5X5, which teaches participants five tools that can allow them to become a more confident speaker in five minutes per day or less.More from this Author