As part of my job as an etiquette expert, I am often called upon to present business etiquette seminars, anywhere in the world. And like most people, I still get nervous about stepping on stage before an audience, especially if I have to speak in front of a large group.
Public speaking can be challenging, even for the most seasoned speaker. It takes years of practice, lots of mistakes and even a few speech classes, to overcome the fear of speaking. Over the years, I’ve learned some “tricks of the trade” for controlling my anxiety, or at least minimizing it. Here are some tips you can use before and during your next presentation.
1. Build it in sections.
When you are selected to give a presentation, your anxiety level can soar. You wonder, “What will I say?” or “How will I come across?” Instead of letting your fears overwhelm you, break the task into manageable chunks. Think of it like chapters in a book: you want to introduce the subject, offer up to three major points, and wrap up with a satisfying conclusion. Create each chapter separately then put the entire presentation together. Make sure that you time yourself so you don’t run overtime.
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2. Create your outline.
I find it much easier to present when I have an outline. Become familiar with what you want to say and try to avoid reading your script onstage. When I started speaking years ago, I thought that I had to be perfect, especially since I’m an etiquette expert. I quickly learned that being too perfect and well rehearsed turns people off. Now I start every presentation with a story about my upbringing and who inspired me to do what I’m doing today. I tell my audiences that I was not born to wealthy parents nor did I grow up attending private schools, tea parties or cotillions. Instead, I grew up in a small town and was raised by a single mother who worked in a beauty salon. Ironically, this short story makes me relatable in some way to many of my audience members. I’ve learned that the best scripts are not memorized at all, but are spoken from the heart.
Some people find standing in front of a mirror helpful when preparing a presentation; I rehearse mine in my head while I’m taking a shower and when I’m driving or flying to the event. I recommend running through your entire presentation several times. This will allow you to catch and adjust any awkward portions and insert or delete information where you find the presentation lacking. If you’re new to public speaking, ask a friend or colleague to watch you present and give you feedback. No matter what method of rehearsal is most comfortable to you, the most important thing is to know your information well enough so that you can present it naturally. The better rehearsed you are, the less anxiety you will feel when it’s time to step onto the stage. It’s okay to use talking points that will help keep you on track. Print them off in large-point type (16 point or larger) so that you can glance at them occasionally. If you use PowerPoint, do not use it as a crutch. Slides should enhance your presentation, not detract from it.
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4. Suit up simply.
When you give a presentation you want the audience to focus on your message as opposed to what you are wearing. That doesn’t mean that you should dress your best. It just means that you should avoid wearing anything distracting. Keep jewelry to a minimum, make sure your clothes fit well and are free of wrinkles. I once saw a speaker who spoke with her hands a lot and all I could focus on was her red nail polish. Stay away from large patterns or too many colors. Solids are best. And don’t forget to dress for your audience. For example, if I speak to a group of bankers or attorneys, I wear dark colors like grey, blue or black to convey authority. If I speak to at a women’s social luncheon, I wear more vibrant colors like pink, purple or green so I appear more approachable.
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5. Engage your audience.
A long, dry presentation of facts is sure to be a yawn-inducer, so consider your presentation as a conversation with your audience. Create ways to get your audience thinking, feeling or helping you present. Ask questions, incorporate teambuilding exercises, and ask for volunteers to come up to the front to help you demonstrate your point. Most people are visual learners so engage your audience with lively stories, videos and props. Ask the group to stand, clap or raise their hands, and give you frequent feedback. And remember, a little humor goes a long way. These tactics will make your presentation more memorable and fun.
While none of these tips will completely eliminate the anxiety of speaking before a group, they will certainly give you confidence and skills to be a good presenter. Like anything else, the more you practice, the better you will get. If you make a mistake, don’t fret. Just keep going and always remember to be yourself and not a version of someone else.