Does your heart work overtime and your memory go blank when you speak in front of people? You can change that with good habits and discipline. But it takes work. Your first task is to find ways to calm and energize yourself at the same time. You want to be a relaxed and enthusiastic presenter. Look through the list below and pick two tips you can begin to cultivate as habits right now. Guarantee your presentation success with diligent, consistent efforts!
1. Recognize your skill level and get the coaching you need
The next time you have an important presentation for an internal meeting or key clients, consider what you really need to be successful and then seek out the appropriate coaching. Go over your talk with several colleagues and your boss, or take an intensive two-day presentation workshop that raises your skills to the next level. By recognizing and respecting your skill level, you’ll set yourself up for success, not failure.
2. Don’t create many extra notes to use when presenting
If you have both a PowerPoint slide and notes to look at, you are going to spend less time focused on the audience and probably too much time giving a “data dump” presentation. Trying to read your extra notes will distract you from engaging the audience and getting their comments and feedback.
3. Don’t over-prepare and under-rehearse
Yes it’s critical to have the appropriate content, but don’t work on content so much that you neglect rehearsal. You must leave sufficient time to rehearse – which may include practicing in front of a colleague or your boss to get their feedback before the real presentation.
4. Rehearse out loud as if a real audience is listening to you
A real rehearsal is not talking in your car, thinking about your presentation in the shower or reviewing it mentally while walking around. The most powerful and useful way to prepare is to stand up and go through the whole talk as if your audience is there with you. And time it! If you use PowerPoint, use the slide show>rehearse timings feature.
5. Visualize your success
Many people do a visualization run-through after their out-loud real rehearsal. They watch themselves walk in front of the audience, take calm relaxing breaths, open the talk, speak calmly with pauses and close the talk. Here’s a YouTube clip on visualization techniques:
6. Exercise the day before or day of your presentation
If you have a tendency to be on the anxious side, then exercise the day before and the morning of your talk. Exercise calms most people, relieving stress and anxiety as it increases energy. It also helps you sleep.
7. Get enough sleep
Don’t stay up half the night working on your presentation and think you will do a great delivery job the next day. You need your sleep to feel energized and engaged with your audience. If you’re too wound up and have trouble sleeping, here are some solutions to try:
Take a pill if you’re really desperate
Learn to meditate
Consult a nutritionist to find out what’s missing in your diet that doesn’t let you sleep. For example, when I travel and eat protein every three to four hours, I sleep very well.
8. Practice positive self-talk
Be your own best coach before you start talking. Don’t say to yourself, “You look tired today. You really don’t know this content like some of the experts in the audience. You shouldn’t be talking.” Instead say to yourself, “You did an excellent real rehearsal last night. You practiced answering the tough questions with your boss and will be able to handle any that come. You have a wonderful opportunity today, so enjoy it.”
9. Breathe deeply and consciously
“Practicing regular, mindful breathing can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders,” says Dr. Andrew Weil. He suggests trying these three breathing exercises. According to Dr. Weil, one of these exercises is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system – just what you need if you have an attack of nerves during your presentation.
10. Focus your attention on the audience
Pay more attention to your audience when you are speaking and less on giving yourself an ongoing critique of how you are doing. An outward focus will reduce the strength of that inner critic. Keep asking yourself, “What does the audience need to know right now? Shall I invite comments and questions now?”
11. Be present, not perfect
If you have to say the perfect word in a perfect sentence, you may get an A for diligence but will get a D on audience connection. Give yourself permission to be sincere and enthusiastic. It’s not about giving the presentation just as you practiced it. It’s about being present in the moment and crafting the words for that audience right then and there.
12. Recuperate constantly
The test of a professional presenter is not to do everything perfectly. The test is to recuperate from any problem that comes up. If someone is rude or aggressively critical, the presenter handles the person and goes on. If there’s a surprise comment, the presenter takes it in stride. Most audiences don’t mind mistakes, but they do as easily forget your inability to recuperate from it. Your task is to recuperate from the unexpected and go on being even more dynamic and confident than before.
Almost anyone can become a proficient, relaxed speaker. To get to that stage, you must start engaging in habits that will relax you, give you confidence and provide the foundation so you can feel, act and sound in charge when speaking. Start today.
Claudyne Wilder coaches clients to get to the message! Develop audience-focused content. Design message-oriented slides. Deliver a compelling, passionate presentation. She’s passionate about her client’s successes! She dances the Argentine Tango and frequently helps her clients gain an edge by giving them ideas on how a tango dances connects with a dance partner.
Tips are great, Claudyne. I'm a firm believer that if you minimize the notes, know your content, focus on your audience...and throw "being perfect" out the window...you can turn yourself into a decent speaker.
Energy and enthusiasm cover a lot of ills when captivating an audience. And no death by powerpoint!
@dbvickery I love the image of throwing "being perfect" out the window. Makes me want to take a fake window to my workshops and tell people to put all the inappropriate presenter messages they tell themselves out the window!!! Also could have everyone practice being as perfect as possible for one minute and then as enthusiastic as possible. Film both of them and see which one the presenter likes. Thank you, you covered all the bases in your comment---especially energy and enthusiasm.
These are great tips. And #2 is critically important. It's such an energy killer when speakers are looking at slides with too many words and then their own notes on top of that! Any speaker working through these tips will gain much more traction with their audience.
@AnneGreenwood Anne I love your words "energy killer" which is so true. The audience experiences the presenter's energy when the person is looking at them, not the slides or their notes. So a presenter can be an "energy killer' or an "energy exciter." How's that?
Great tips. This all comes together for as a refresher that effective presentations are about connecting with your audience. Comments # 2 and #11 remind me of how too much focus on the data on the slides (even reading the slides - oh no!) get in the way of communicating a good message memorably and persuasively. People won't necessarily recall that the figures in slide #27 were cool. They'll remember how the speaker imparted insights and made the time fly by.
a multi-faceted list that touches on things that people don't often think about. #4 is hard to do but the pay off is major, #11 makes a huge difference too and seems to me to be a hallmark of presenters with gravitas.
@Kevin Mitchell You're welcome Kevin. So one might want to know how much exercise do you like to do before a presentation? Me my ideal would be 90 minutes of aerobics and some wonderful yoga type stretches and core workouts.
These are all terrific points! I think many of them are also relevant to job interviews (which is a type of presentation). I especially relate to #3. Getting enough sleep is something I need to do more of. Your presentation performance will certainly be effected if you aren't well rested.
@daniellethompson You are so right Danielle. More people looking for jobs should take these to heart. You've got to practice saying out loud what you type of job you're looking for. And you've got to practice talking about your accomplishments and skills. You want to sound in charge of talking about yourself.!!
Excellent post! #10 is my personal fav. It's amazing what focusing on the ability of your audience to clearly understand your message can make the butterflies vanish. If you don't see the spotlight as being on you, then it won't be.
@douglaserice Hi Doug, I so agree. In the end the presentation is about the audience and what they take away for themselves. Be fun to give a talk and at some moment have all the lights in the room focus on the audience and the speaker be in the dark!!