Does the idea of presenting to an audience make you

image of conference audience

Does this fill you with dread?

  1. Sweaty?
  2. Shaky?
  3. Want to run away?
  4. Scared beyond words?

If you’re a naturally shy person, presenting to an audience will never be your first choice of ideal work task.  But, at some point in your career, you may well find yourself in front of a large audience, laptop in front of you, clicker in hand, panic in your eyes.

As a formerly shy person, I’m not going to tell you to ‘just get it over with’.  Instead, I’m going to give you some tried and tested tips for presenting to an audience that aim to calm the nerves and kick ass!

So, what are the key areas of presenting?  To a fabulously outgoing speaker, it’ll probably just be the presentation itself – these confident people already know they’re great at public speaking.  For the rest of us, the actual presentation is just one step towards perfection.  Let’s get it out of the way first:

The Power of PowerPoint:

  1. Don’t make your presentation all singing, all dancing – flash animation, soundbites, video can all add to your nerves – why make life harder for yourself by adding in the possibility of severe technical hitches? Keep it simple, with either your Company’s Master template or a light coloured background and dark text.
  2. What should your slides show?  Introduce yourself, give a summary of key points, give those key points, give a summary of what you’ve just said, leave them wanting more (ask the audience some questions to think further on).
  3. The Power of Three and the Power of Bullet Points:  keep each slide to three salient points; keep sentences short and to the point; use bullet points.  These tips will make your presentation easier to read on the screen, easier to read on hand-outs and easier to understand and keep up with.

Now, let’s look at you. 

The Power of You

How you present can be broken down into what you say (see the Power of PowerPoint above) and how you say it.  Getting your point across can be hard for anyone less confident or shy so what can you do to improve your presentational pizazz?

  1. Think about how you talk to a close friend and replicate that x 50 / 100 / 500.  I don’t mean sit down with a cup of coffee with every one of your audience members, I mean how you talk one on one is probably your most comfortable way of talking to others so why not replicate that in front of your audience – they are not the enemy, they are your closest friend duplicated.  Don’t worry too much about flailing hands if you’re a ‘big’ talker or moving around a lot if you’re an ‘energetic’ talker, don’t worry about projecting if you’re a quiet talker (microphones are heaven sent for quiet talkers).
  1. Try not to sit down when presenting – I know having the comfort of a laptop in front of you feels great but, unless you have a disability that prevents you from standing, you can’t engage your audience fully by sitting down.  Take a deep breath and stand up.
  1. Are you a rambler?  I was talking about rambling to a rambling friend just the other day.  Have a rambling totem!
    picture of dog and soft toy

    Even cute dogs need ‘rambling’ totems

    Tend to put your hands in your pockets when you ramble?  Have a drawing pin/needle/tack in your pocket.  Tend to look down when you ramble?  Have a small soft toy on the floor of the stage.  Your rambling totem will knock your brain off its rambling course and get you back on track (disclaimer: totally not scientifically proven but give it a try!).

  1. Planning – a former colleague taught me that rehearsal is key for presentations.  From your slides, expand on each point in the Notes section – print this bit out for yourself and rehearse your full presentation, either in private, in front of a mirror or, and this is harder for me, in front of a friend or colleague who can give you some good feedback on your presentation.  You don’t have to memorise your notes for showtime, just keep them in your hand (bolded, capitalised, highlighted where necessary) while you’re presenting so they act as a prompt, not a script.  Index cards can also work as your showtime prompt but make sure you write on them which slide you’re talking about for each card.
  1. Before you start, pick two people at the front of the audience, one in the middle and one near the back – pick people who look vaguely awake and/or are wearing bright/interesting clothes.  Then, speak to those people in turn throughout your presentation.  This way, your eyes will be tracking over a larger portion of the audience so, hopefully, a larger portion will feel engaged without you feeling the need to speak to everyone.
  1. Don’t worry!  ‘Easy for you to say!’, you cry.  Nope, I’m a big internal worrier and I can get stage fright (ruined my blossoming ballet career aged 7).  Try some relaxation exercises before you present:
    1. Deeply breathe in through the nose, hold it for as long as you can, exhale through the mouth, repeat ten times.
    1. Imagine you’re lying on a beach, soft sand beneath you, golden sunshine, favourite book next to you, turquoise waves softly lapping onto the shore.
    1. Close your eyes and imagine your favourite meal, cooking it or buying it, tasting every piece, relaxing afterwards with a full belly.
    2. Try some voice exercises (preferably in the venue’s bathroom or a private room where no one can overhear you) – this can be as simple as the sound technician’s favourite of ‘check, check, one, two, three’, a favourite nursery rhyme or just saying your own name but stretching the vowel’s out.  Feel silly?  Yep!  Feel calmer?  Hopefully!
  1. Unless you’re a professional comedian, don’t start off with a joke!  Your audience isn’t here to be your first date, they want to hear what you have to say, think about it and then go have coffee/lunch/afternoon tea.  Equally, you will not be able to please or engage everyone, don’t try to.  A good round of applause at the end of your presentation or just a couple of good questions asked are the results of a great presentation.

Legs a bit less shaky now?  Palms a little less sweaty?  I can’t guarantee that all of these tips will equal a new, more confident you but hopefully they’ll help you get through the presentation that you’re dreading.  Got any more good tips for presenting?  Let me know – I can always use a few more tips myself!

Photo credits: microphone by Alex Turner , cute dog by NoseyNest, Creative Commons.