At some point in your academic or professional career, you will be asked to give a lengthy presentation to a large group of people.
This can be the most terrifying part of your whole social experience. Surveys show that public speaking is ranked higher in people’s list of fears than death. But don’t worry, it won’t kill you!
There are some very easy ways to overcome this anxiety and improve your presentation skills.
1. Know your topic. You’re speaking from a position of authority. You are up there in front of the room with a command of your topic. If anyone knew better, they would be up there giving the speech.
2. Know the inside details of what you’re talking about. This might mean extra research or thinking on possible objections or holes in your arguments, but you should know everything there is to know about your topic. If you know everything about your topic, nothing can throw you off track and you’ll come through clear, concise, and confident.
3. Be on point. People are there to hear what you have to say, so it’s important not to waste their time. People also have very short attention spans and only really remember the brief points of a speech.
4. Dissect your presentation into bullet points. You should know these by heart. They should be so clear and complete, that if someone were to read them as a list of items, they should be able to walk away with the gist of your speech.
5. Practice makes better (there is no perfect). If you’re particularly nervous, or just want to improve your skills slightly, nothing beats good old practice. Run through your presentation before several days beforehand. Even just running through the bullet points and listing them will give you a better understanding of the flow of the presentation. When it’s flowing nicely you’ll know you’ve practised enough. This will also show you areas where you could make improvements.
6. Try recording yourself giving a presentation and watch it. You’ll probably focus on all the little mistakes you made. Then, show the recording to a friend. They won’t notice all the little things at all. You get some good feedback from them, and you get to see how people don’t even notice certain mistakes.
7. Plan to fail. No matter how well you plan, something will go wrong. Projectors break, cue cards will be dropped, etc. Nobody’s speeches ever go as well in person as they do in practice.
8. Don’t worry about it. If you know your material and if you’ve practised it enough to know where your strengths are, you’ll do just fine. Rolling with the punches is part of public speaking. Remember, when you were practising in front of friends or showing them a recording, they didn’t even see all the little mistakes you think you made.
9. Project confidence. This one can be the toughest thing to do. It’s easy to say “be confident”, but public speaking is hard precisely because we find it hard to be confident. If you know your material, you’re well on your way to projecting confidence and your audience will pick up on it. You can help them read confidence by relaxing. Everyone will have different techniques, but there are some universal ones that can help if you need that extra boost.
10. Visualize your presentation beforehand. Before you even get up to present, imagine the way you’re going to walk up. Imagine the good reaction you’re going to get from your audience. This can prime you to have the confidence you need.
11. Get to know the room. If you have the time or ability, greet some of the people as they come in. If you know them a little better (even if you only shook their hands) you’ll feel more relaxed.
12. Have an open posture. Keeping body language open suggests a certain amount of ease. Your audience will pick up on this and respond well.
13. Get excited. If you’re able, find a way to speak with energy. This will build on itself and you’ll find that speaking about your topic becomes easy and familiar.
14. Never say “Sorry”. This one is about maintaining confidence. If you’re apologizing for mistakes (even big ones) it shows your audience that you’re not confident. Avoid drawing attention to your mistakes by letting them slide on by. Chances are nobody noticed. This will keep you relaxed.
15. You’re all set. Armed with this information, you’re ready to take on a room of ten or even ten thousand people. Remember, people are listening to you for a reason, they want you to succeed and they want to hear what you have to say, so get up there and deliver your presentation.