The date is circled in red on your calendar and marked in your iPhone’s calendar, too. It’s a date that looms in your head, even though it’s still a week or two away. And unlike birthdays, anniversaries, or other celebrations, little joy fills you when you think of this date. Pure dread is an accurate description of what fills you instead.
Know that you’re not alone if the date of important presentations affects you like this. Presentation Anxiety is common for many people—but know that you don’t have to be part of the ‘many.’ You can turn into one of those individuals who seemingly effortlessly deliver presentations. Practice and confidence are the two major components of acing your next presentation without the stress.
Did you ever watch a presentation and think, “That presenter practiced way too much?” We do not know of a presenter who practices too much, though we have witnessed presenters who could have perhaps benefited from practicing a little more.
Practice is one of the easiest ways to boost your confidence before a presentation and reduce anxiety. Practice can lead to more confidence in your ability to present the material as you become more familiar with it.
Practice over the course of several days—not just the night before
The key, however, is to not leave your practicing to the night before (or even two or three days before depending on how big of a presentation you have to deliver and your level of anxiety). Practicing the night before is inherently stressful because you have a looming deadline of the next morning to meet, resulting in extra anxiety.
Instead, spread your practice presentations out over a few days. Allow yourself a few times to go through your presentation to see what you know well, which parts are a little trickier, and the parts that may require some reworking. Don’t feel that every time you run through your presentation you need to start at the beginning and go all the way to the end. If there’s a tricky slide in the middle that details your company’s operational strategy and has a lot of components, know that it’s okay just to practice that slide for a while. Practice what you need to practice.
By spreading your practice run-throughs out over a few days, you give yourself more time to think about the presentation in a less stressful manner. It also gives you a chance to seek out feedback from others, like your colleagues, friends, and family. Initially, they can provide feedback about the structure of your presentation. Does it make sense to the audience? Is it easy to follow? Are there places where you could perhaps explain more or less?
As you refine your presentation through practice and get more comfortable with it, their feedback can transition to focusing on how to make the delivery of the presentation stronger. Are you talking too fast? Should you make more eye contact with your audience? Do you tend to pace back and forth or move your hands in an awkward manner? Your colleagues, friends, and family can watch your presentation multiple times if you continue to practice and improve upon your presentation, and offer different, beneficial advice each time.
Tip: If you’re looking to become a better public speaker in general, consider joining Toastmasters—an international organization that helps members improve public speaking skills.
Find the Passion in your Presentation
Tell me about your favorite television show? It’s easy, right? Your palms don’t get sweaty. Your stomach isn’t filled with butterflies. You’re calm. Why is it easy to talk about your favorite show at a moment’s notice, but so much harder to give a presentation that you have practiced and prepared for in advance?
It’s easy to talk about your favorite show because it’s something you inherently care about and enjoy. You genuinely like the show and so you have an instantaneous connection to the topic. Your presentation topic, however, isn’t necessarily the same. Maybe you don’t have a natural connection with your company’s marketing strategy or next year’s budget. That’s okay.
What you can do is find one or two points of your presentation that you really like and excite you. If you’re talking about a marketing plan, perhaps it’s a unique product offering that your company is releasing to market or an innovative way you connect with each of your customers. Find an aspect of the presentation that is your favorite part and remember that part when you get nervous. Just like how you like certain parts of your favorite movie, remembering that you like certain parts of your presentation will make you calmer too.
Practice will lead to more confidence in your ability to deliver your presentation. Another thing that can lead to more confidence, though, is changing the way you approach your presentation.
Focus on Your Audience
When a lot of people think of an impending presentation, they tend to have thoughts like:
- “What if I forget what to say?”
- “What if I make a mistake and stutter over a tricky part of the presentation?”
- “What if I make a complete fool of myself?”
- “What will people think of me?”
It’d be easy to get yourself very nervous if you’re constantly thinking about things that could potentially go wrong! Rather, stop looking at yourself and focus on your audience. Ask yourself how you can be most helpful to your audience. What would they benefit most from learning from you? What are they hoping to gain from your presentation? What information could you share that they’d be surprised to learn?
By focusing on your audience, you put less pressure on yourself and allow yourself to be less anxious and more confident about your presentation.
Mess up? Just Keep Going.
You’re on a tricky slide and you slip up on a particular sentence. You say it differently than you normally said it during practice. You get nervous and stumble for a word or two. Just take a deep breath and go on to the next sentence in your presentation. No one will know if you say something differently from how you practiced it. They won’t know if you forgot to mention a little detail here or there. Only you will know. Simply move forward. Watch Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on how our body language and perception of ourself shapes how we see ourself and how others see us.
Do What Works for You
At the end of the day, there will be some techniques that are helpful to you as you work on preparing your presentation and some that aren’t as applicable to you. You have to do what works for you and what makes you most comfortable. After all, you will be the one on stage, not anyone else. If you’re friend makes notecards with bullet points to help him, but you prefer delivering a presentation from memory, then that’s great. Focus on what works for you. If you need notecards, then do that. There’s no right or wrong way to practice. The key is just to practice.