Why most people fear presentations and what you can do to lighten up

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Written by Judith Beck.

The fear people experience when they have to do a presentation is so common that people will do just about anything to get out of it. Why are we so worried about getting up in front of people and talking about things we are experts in? I get the spur of the moment, tell me about yourself type of presentations where you are put on the spot. Everyone feels uncomfortable when this happens, and you are unprepared. But when you know you have to do a presentation and you have been asked because you are the expert what is the big deal, right?

It is a big deal and if affects us all at some stage. Just know that everyone goes through it.

Six years ago, when I started FEW, I had to speak in front of groups of people for the first time in years and to say I was rusty was an understatement. I ran my Executive Search firm for 25 years and the focus is on one to one client relationships due to the confidentiality of the business instead of mass marketing. But FEW is different as I need to reach out to a whole industry to send a message.

I remember doing my first presentation to 250 people in Sydney. I used the lectern and had slides and notes which I referred to. My assistant at the time said to me, why are you using notes Judith you know this topic inside and out. I said, I know but I don’t want to forget anything and out of nerves repeat myself either. She looked at me like I was crazy and said you got this.

I remember doing the presentation, feeling ok after I did it, the audience laughed at the right spots, there were smiles in the audience (except the one person in the audience that looks like they want to kill you during the whole presentation – you know the one). I have learned to ignore that person and not take it personally (thanks Colette Werden for your words of wisdom on the grumpy people in the audience – Colette says, it’s not you, its them and they could be going through something, so don’t take it personally).

After the presentation, Vanessa Bennett presented. If you have had the pleasure to see Vanessa speak, she is the real deal. No notes, a couple slides, poised, stands in front of the audience, captivates them. Thank goodness I went first. I said to Vanessa, how do you do it, that was fantastic. Vanessa said - plenty of practice. I realised then that presentations are a work in progress and like everything, you learn from your mistakes and improve. Don’t compare yourself with others, learn from them.

My presentation was filmed so I got an opportunity to look at it afterwards. How disappointed I was at what I saw. Who is that person and what was she thinking! Look up! Why did you wear that dress? Stop looking at the screen all the time and reading what it says. Don’t ramble on. I was so annoyed at myself and wished I could do it all over again.

Surprisingly the organisers told me I received good feedback and a good survey score. So was I more critical on myself then I needed to be, probably, but aren’t we all. Seeing yourself on film is an eye opener and a great way to improve your presentation skills. Sometimes we need to see and hear the truth. The main thing is to look at the presentation and think what I can improve and not dwell on what you did or didn’t do. I love presenting now, but I look at the process differently and it makes a huge difference. I hope this will help you.

My tips for making presentations more enjoyable:

  • Firstly, I think about the presentation as, this will be fun, can’t wait
  • I am there because they want to hear about my experience or the topic I am experienced in – so just tell it like you would if you were having a conversation
  • Your mindset makes a huge difference, so you really need to take fear out and relax – enjoy the experience – repeat in your head, can’t wait to get there, this will be fun. If you are giving a technical presentation, then think about how you are going to pass on your knowledge to others and how good that is
  • I find showing up early and talking to people who are arriving very effective as then when I start my presentation there are several friendly faces already in the audience and I focus my eye contact on them
  • Ask the audience questions to break the ice
  • Limit your slides and make sure they are not too wordy, show them to someone before your presentation for feedback
  • Step away from the podium and engage your audience
  • Be yourself!

There are a lot more things that you can do when presenting, but too many to dissect into a short article, so feel free to ask me questions.

Regards Judith

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