Most people admit they would rather do just about anything other than get up and speak in front of a group.  However, presentation skills are important and letting these feelings get in the way of speaking in public can hinder your career.   Here is a step-by-step approach to help you cut down on your anxiety before a presentation, whether it’s in front of a small group or an audience of hundreds.

  1. Audience Analysis. Think about your audience first and put yourself in their place. What do they want to learn from you?  The more you consider your audience, the more comfortable you will be in front of them.
  2. Material. Before I speak, I like to create a draft of all my ideas. Then I pick out the key points I want the audience to remember.  I always start out with too much information and then narrow it down to three or four key points.  The rule is LESS is MORE.  Arrange your thoughts in a logical order.  Have a strong beginning so you will get off to a great start and build confidence while you speak.  Your closing should tie everything together.  You should also anticipate questions so you can prepare for them.
  3. Visuals. The audience came to hear you speak, not read your PowerPoint slides.  Keep your visual aids simple and make sure they add value to your presentation.  Become familiar with the equipment you’re using so you are comfortable with it.
  4. Rehearse. Review your notes and practice from start to finish.  Practice in the room you plan to use and have a few people sit in to give you feedback. A word of caution: don’t over prepare and actually memorize your presentation.  If you do, it won’t come across as natural. It works much better to have some notes and refer to them occasionally. Time your practice so you will know the length of your presentation.
  5. Present. Your presentation should be similar to a great conversation with a friend.  It’s easy to maintain good eye contact if both of you are engaged in the conversation.  Encourage the audience’s  involvement by asking a few questions.   Move around and use natural gestures to help you release energy and seem more relaxed to the audience.  Be yourself and show your passion for the topic. You should also be aware of your pace. Just as you would not rush the conversation with your friend, take your time with your presentation. Do your best to eliminate “um’s” or other small words to fill a moment of silence. You may not even be aware of this habit, but a little silence is fine and much better than repetively using “um.”

Being anxious before a presentation is perfectly natural and likely something you will never completely eliminate.    Even the most experienced speakers admit they experience anxiety too!  If you follow these steps, you can present like a pro!   I’d love to hear about some of your presentations and any ideas you have to help others with public speaking.

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