Presentation Tips: Dealing With Fear Of Public Speaking

Stage fright and fear of public speaking aren’t exactly the same thing, but they are so closely  related that suggestions for coping with one are often helpful for dealing with the other. This short and entertaining TED Talk by Joe Kowan is great because it shows the specific tactics he uses to lessen his fear of being on stage: things like writing a song about his fear (which he performs here) and planning for the fact that his nerves will make his singing voice higher than usual.

While Kowan’s strategies may not apply directly to your own fear of public speaking (few of us get the chance to write songs for our presentations), I like the model he provides for coming up with a personal plan to deal with anxiety. Almost everyone experiences fear of public speaking to some degree, and few presenters completely overcome it. (In this sense I think the title of the talk is slightly misleading–I don’t think Kowan has “beat” his fear, he’s just found some ways to cope).

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m always a little nervous about speaking to an audience. So I’ve adopted several strategies of my own to help lessen my anxiety. Here are a few of the tactics I use:

Being Prepared: I don’t want worries that my talk isn’t finished, that my computer won’t work, or that I’m not going to get there on time to make my nerves any worse than they already are. So I make sure that I’m never writing a presentation at the last minute, I double-check my computer to make sure I have all the files and AV connectors I need, and I plan so I have enough time to arrive early. If you’re not great at managing these kinds of details, a checklist can be very helpful.

Getting Comfortable: One side benefit of arriving early is that you can use the time to familiarize yourself with the room and get comfortable. One of the most terrifying moments for most speakers is when they suddenly have to stand up, walk over to the lectern, and start talking. But arriving early gives you a chance to make sure everything is ready, to chat with people as they come in, and start to feel like the room is yours instead of an alien environment. If you’ve already been talking to people as the room fills you can often just ease into your presentation in a conversational way and avoid that feeling of having the curtain going up, leaving you alone on the stage.

Thinking of the Audience as Individuals: It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of an audience as a homogeneous group like a mob. If a speaker sees one person in the audience who looks unhappy, they often start to assume that everyone hates them. But it’s important to remember that any audience is made up of individuals with different ideas and experiences. Don’t let one person ruin the whole thing. Also, focusing on someone you know in the audience, someone who seems to be nodding in agreement, or just a friendly face, can go a long way toward calming your nerves and helping you forget about the rest of the crowd.

Staying Hydrated: Nerves often give speakers a dry mouth, so have water handy in case you get thirsty or find yourself with a scratchy throat. Taking a sip of water is also a good way to pause for a moment to collect your thoughts without looking as if you’ve frozen like a deer in headlights. But a couple words of caution. Try to put your glass or bottle out of the way so it’s unlikely to get knocked over. And try to avoid ice in your water: condensation dripping on your outfit can make an embarrassing impression. Finally, try not to look too desperate for a drink.

These are just some of the things that I find work for me. Before your next presentation, take a few minutes to sit down and think about some strategies that might help you minimize (if not “beat”) your fear. Coming up with a few ideas can make your fear seem less overwhelming and more manageable.

Joe Kowan: How I beat stage fright

Fear Of Public Speaking: A Little Bit Is Good For You

Fear, whether it’s just a little bit of nerves or full-on panic, is one of the challenges that almost every presenter deals with to some degree or another. Surprisingly many nervous speakers don’t realize that almost everyone–including the presenters they admire–experiences the same thing.

So I always try to convince the people I’m working with that fear of public speaking is totally normal and can actually help motivate you to do the work necessary to create a great presentation. Personally, I know that it would be really hard to duplicate the burst of energy and enthusiasm that my little bit of nerves contribute when it’s time to deliver a talk.

Now there’s some scientific evidence to back up what I’ve been telling people for years. “Actually, a little anxiety may be just what you need to focus your efforts and perform at your peak,” according to The Wall Street Journal:

Somewhere between checked out and freaked out lies an anxiety sweet spot, some researchers say, in which a person is motivated to succeed yet not so anxious that performance takes a dive. This moderate amount of anxiety keeps people on their toes, enables them to juggle multiple tasks and puts them on high alert for potential problems.

Anxiety is especially self-defeating when people focus on the fear itself, rather than the task at hand. The best way to stay in the “sweet spot,” Dr. Moser says, is to channel the anxiety into productive activity—like studying and acing the test. “I tell a lot of my patients that Nike really has a great slogan—Just Do It,” he says.

Don’t focus on the fear and let it defeat you, but channel it to help you accomplish your goals. And try to remember that almost everyone shares your anxiety to one degree or another. Being nervous in front of an audience is part of the human experience. I’m half convinced that anyone who isn’t is either a sociopath or space alien.

Motivational Speeches: Show a Little Enthusiasm

Showing a little enthusiasm in your presentations is a great way to bring up the energy level in the room and demonstrate to your audience that you really care about your subject.  Enthusiasm is entertaining in itself and audiences will be much more open to the message of a presenter who is clearly excited.  They’ll even be more tolerant of a presenter who isn’t perfectly polished if they can tell you care.

Of course your enthusiasm has to be genuine– you can’t fake it.  But try to show your audience why you’re passionate about your topic if you want them feel anything.

That said, you probably don’t want to be quite as excited as this kid learning to ride his bike.  It might be a little much in a professional presentation.

“Thumbs up for rock and roll!”

Great Presentations Require Courage

Far too many presenters are controlled by their fear.  They worry about making a negative impression so they create slides they can hide behind and wind up making no impression on their audience at all.

Creating a presentation that’s truly memorable requires courage;  you have to step out from behind your PowerPoint slides and find a way to really engage your audience.  What I like most about this valedictory speech from high school senior Alaine Caudle is that she manages to be highly effective even though she isn’t perfect.  She gets the beginning or her song wrong and starts over and the whole thing probably goes on a little too long.  But it’s clear that the risks she takes and her enthusiasm have totally won over the crowd.  Maybe it’s not the “Greatest Valedictorian Speech Ever!” but it’s probably the best one most of the people in the audience have seen.

Next time you need to put together a presentation ask yourself what you can do to make your presentation stand out.  Rapping may not be a good idea for most of us, but surely there’s something you can do to make an impression.