Whether or not you like public speaking, sooner or later most of us have to get up in front of a group and give a presentation. And that can be nerve-wracking, whether it’s a crowd of thousands or just a few coworkers. These tips can help keep those public speaking jitters away and ensure that your next presentation has everyone hanging on your every word.
Figure out your audience.
Who will be listening, and what do they want to hear? There are a million different ways to pitch a product or showcase a study’s findings, and different people will respond to different ones. You don’t want to give the exact same presentation to a group of lawyers and a group of doctors, and a room of 20-somethings will respond to a completely different style than one of 60-somethings. Whether people get your analogies, references, and jokes depends entirely on their demographics, and you need to know that before you start speaking.
Give yourself a clear, concrete, and attainable objective.
What are you looking to accomplish with this presentation? It seems like a simple question, but everything that you say and do should come back to your answer. Look at every slide, every chart, every sentence, and ask yourself whether it furthers the goal that you have set for the presentation. If it doesn’t, chances are you’ll be better off cutting it. You might have heard the acronym KISS, for “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” and it’s excellent advice. Cutting out non-essential parts of your presentation makes the important stuff come out even more clearly, and makes it easier for the audience to grasp what it is you’re trying to say.
Keep yourself focused in the time leading up to the presentation. Try not to get distracted with everything else going on around you, and definitely don’t add to those distractions yourself. If your mind is elsewhere when you get up to speak, it’ll be that much harder to get on the right track and give it your best. Try not to check your phone, email, or anything else that can wait until after the presentation, and don’t get caught up in unnecessary conversations. That’s not to say you shouldn’t talk to anyone; be polite and friendly to everyone as they come in. But they’ll understand if you don’t want to go down a potentially distracting conversational rabbit hole with them. Likewise, try to keep the hours before your big presentation relatively clear to give yourself the head-space you need.
Wear comfortable clothing.
You have to look good, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of your comfort while giving your presentation. Every little issue will be magnified as soon as you step up in front of the group. Those too-high heels will suddenly feel unstable. That too-tight collar will suddenly feel like it’s strangling you. Even something as silly as a tag rubbing the back of your neck might taunt you with the urge to scratch, making 10 minutes seem like an hour. Invest in some smart-looking but easy and comfortable outfits that will help you feel your best before your big moment.
It’s amazing how much tension we carry around in our bodies, and how that can affect our performance. Leading up to your presentation, mentally check on each part of your body for any built-up tightness, and try to release it. You’ll probably find that you have a subconsciously clenched jaw, raised shoulders, and scrunched-up toes. Physically relaxing those muscles will help you feel more relaxed mentally, and also make you look more poised and confident when you’re in front of everyone.
Control your body language.
Your words say one thing, but what your body says can say just as much if not more. Swaying from side to side, nervously fidgeting with a pen, or awkward hand gestures can undermine even the most well-prepared remarks. When you’re practicing your talk, watch yourself in the mirror to try to identify any nervous tics you might have. Even better, video yourself and watch it later, taking notes about which things are and aren’t working. Weak gestures are another thing to look out for. Make sure every gesture is strong and meaningful, or you run the risk of distracting your audience.
Follow these tips for your next presentation, and you’ll wonder why you were ever scared of speaking in public. Good luck!