All greatness is achieved while performing outside our comfort zone. – Greg Arnold
It is common knowledge that the #1 human fear is public speaking. When someone needs to make a presentation, often they just want to ‘get it over with.’
But if you are in business, becoming proficient at public speaking can accelerate your career. Instead of trying to ‘get it over with’ think ‘get good.’
I would like to share a few strategies that can help you reduce your anxiety. Be assured that nervousness concerning public speaking is normal and even healthy.
1. Master your material.
There is no substitute for knowing your material. The more prepared you are, the more confident and spontaneous you will be. Thorough knowledge of the material will also help you speak in a conversational tone.
2. Arrive early.
Make sure you are not dealing with last minute room set-up or technological issues. This will compound your stress. Get there well ahead of time and make sure everything is in order. Greet participants as they come. This will get the focus off yourself and create a relaxed atmosphere.
3. Start strong and end strong.
The first few minutes are usually the hardest. If you have your introduction down cold and it has a good hook, you gain early momentum. Once you get going, the anxiety is often reduced or even eliminated.
4. Make nervousness work for, rather than against you.
If I am nervous before a speech, I simply tell myself that it is positive energy waiting to be channeled into a great presentation.
“Everyone has butterflies in their stomach. The only difference between the pro and an amateur is the pro has the butterflies flying in formation.” – Zig Ziglar
5. Use positive visualization.
This technique is used by some of the world’s greatest performers. Jack Nicklaus used to imagine the golf ball landing softly on the green right next to the hole before he ever took a swing. Picture yourself confident and effective during your presentation.
6. Focus on the message (or Get Over Yourself!)
I used to give Employee of the Month presentations. I would tell myself that my job is to honor person being recognized, not to make me look good. This took the focus off me and actually helped take the edge off my nervousness.
By the way, imagining people in their underwear doesn’t work.
There are no shortcuts to becoming proficient at presentations or reducing the anxiety that comes with it. But with practice it will be dramatically reduced. When I started my career in education, I volunteered to teach topics like infection control, fire safety and HIPAA about 6 times a month in front of an average size audience of 40 people. I did this for the sole purpose of gaining ‘face time’ in front of an audience.
So start small. Volunteer to make a presentation at a department meeting or for a committee. You will slowly build confidence that could eventually lead to great things.