Doesn’t matter what you do you can’t shake those anxious feelings.
Public speaking and presentations are part of your job. You’ve been speaking at least once a week for the last few months but it’s still not any easier.
Days before a presentation you’re a mess. Panicking about everything and struggling to sleep. Trying to stay alert, pounding coffee like beers 15 minutes before happy hour ends. Shaking with nerves and distracted despite your logical brain telling you to calm down. “Can’t you see I’m calm!” you scream at yourself.
It has gotten so bad, and your career path relies so heavily on this, that you’ve employed a public speaking coach to help work through the trauma and improve your presentations.
Easier said than done. The coach is focused on the structure, the slide design, and how you look — none of which is helping to calm your nerves in the slightest. Your speech is now structured like a masterpiece, your slides look like Steve Jobs did ’em, and you’ve got expensive wax in your hair, but your voice still trembles like you’re own your first date.
What is it that the coach is missing? How can you move past the anxiety and at least “look” confident?
Here are 3 super-effective tactics that most public speaking coaches ignore.
1. BODY LANGUAGE
The audience sees your body language long before you speak.
If you’re body language reads “no confidence” nothing you can do will convince the audience you’re someone worth listening to or someone they should trust — after all, people naturally trust others who are confident in themselves and the subject matter they are talking about.
So, what to do?
It’s important to project confidence from the get-go. Don’t assume you can start your talk and the confidence will come. You need to walk on stage and show the audience they should be listening to you and they should trust you.
Here’s how to do it:
- Don’t hang around the front of the room (or on the stage) in the minutes before your talk (you’ll look nervous)
- When you do walk on stage (or to the front of the room) at the start of your presentation maintain an open body position (crossed arms or an otherwise closed position makes you look nervous)
- As you are walking to the position where you’ll talk to the audience start the first line of your presentation before you stop walking (this makes you look more confident by removing the dead air as the audience waits)
- Use gestures as you talk, but let them happen naturally (don’t practice gestures or you’ll look like a bad actor)
So much of public speaking training and coaching is about how you feel. And while this is important, for a good presentation it’s more important for you to consider how the audience feels.
When you are preparing and practicing your delivery it is important that you put yourself in the audience’s shoes. What is it that the audience cares about related to your subject matter? What are their pain points? How will they respond to your presentation? If they are likely to respond negatively to your content, how will you show that you are listening and that you care?
When you go into a speech or presentation with empathy, looking at things from the audience’s perspective, your delivery will naturally be better received.
Your first few seconds on stage can be the toughest.
All the attention is on you. Sometimes it can feel like the audience are just waiting for you to make a mistake.
The best way to deal with the first few seconds is shift focus. Instead of keeping the focus on yourself, put the focus on the audience. I call this “pushing” to the audience. You “push” to the audience by asking them a question. The question can be either rhetorical or question when you expect the audience to answer. Both are okay, but you buy yourself a bit more time if the question is not rhetorical.
Let’s imagine you are delivering a talk at which you’ll introduce a new project management system. You know that people are unhappy with the current system so you could open your presentation with a question like, “What are some of the problems with the current project management system?” Because your audience has an opinion on this you’ve gained instant engagement while also taking the focus off yourself.
What do you think?