There’s nothing quite as stressful as the lead up to a presentation.
So many things to think about and so many things that could go wrong.
The equipment might not work.
You might forget what to say.
You might make mistakes.
Your face might go bright red.
You might trip over.
The audience might laugh at you or judge you.
You might get tough questions you can’t answer.
The list goes on…
If you’ve got a presentation coming up it can be easy to fall into the never-ending cycle of imagining what could go wrong, and keeping yourself awake at night.
Here are 7 ways to simplify and de-stress your upcoming presentation.
1. Accept reality
This is a big one.
The natural mindset people have when it comes to doing a presentation is, “Perfection.”
Everything must be perfect, right?
Wrong. That’s not reality.
In reality, communication is never perfect. Mistakes are made, words are forgotten. It’s normal.
Take a regular conversation as an example.
Is it perfect? No.
Mistakes are made; Words get stuck on the tips of tongues; Important stories suddenly get forgotten. Do we worry about this? Of course not. Do we spend hours preparing for regular conversations. No.
If we could have time to script and practice our regular day-to-day conversations would it improve them? No. In fact, it would make them worse. It would make them seem unnatural.
The same goes when you are delivering a presentation.
What then is the most obvious difference between the talk in a presentation versus a regular conversation? In a regular conversation you talk about subjects you understand well. In most presentations we don’t know the subject particularly well and so we memorize lines.
So, what’s the solution?
- Accept the reality of communication: It’s never perfect.
- Forget memorizing lines, and instead know your subject well so you can talk about it confidently
Accepting the reality of communication will improve our presentations.
2. Prepare for the worst
Stress is caused by worry about what could go wrong.
The way to avoid this worry is to prepare for the worst.
If you’ve covered all your bases, there’s nothing to worry about, right?
Preparing for the worst involves things like:
- Knowing your subject very well
- Having a printed copy of your slides in handout format so you scan through them quickly
- Thinking about how you’re going to handle tough questions that you may not be able to answer
3. Minimize your workload
The biggest workload minimizer is to cut the slides unless you actually need them.
Putting together a slide deck is a time consuming task. This time is much better spent getting to know your subject or planning how handle questions.
If you want to cut your slides but feel like you need some kind of visual, consider using a whiteboard and marker while you deliver your presentation.
4. Make peace with silence
Don’t focus on getting your talk out in a mad rush so you can get your presentation over and done with.
It might make you feel a little better to focus on getting to the end of the presentation, but the rush to get your words out can cause you to stress more when it comes time to actually take the stage.
Additionally, rushing will increase your heart rate and breathing and make you sound nervous.
For a stress-reduced, confident talk, become comfortable with silence.
Deliver a line of your talk and pause.
Then deliver the next line.
Slow and steady wins the race.
You’ll be more relaxed and you’ll come across as more confident (remember, it’s nervous people who don’t like silence).
5. Plan for questions
There are two parts to this plan.
The first is to think critically about your subject matter and your audience. Speculate on what they could possibly ask and prepare some answers.
The second is to have a plan for what to say after you have answered a question. Don’t answer a question and then let silence linger. Answer and then ask, “Does that answer your question?” This removes dead air in the room and allows you to move on to the next question efficiently.
6. Have your first few seconds prepared
Much of our stress comes from negative forecasting about those first few seconds on stage.
Have your first line planned so you can confidently deliver it as soon as you’re in front of your audience.
Bonus tip: Make your first line a question and you buy yourself a few seconds to get comfortable on stage while the audience ponder their response.
7. Have your last few seconds prepared
To stop the panic about how to close your presentation have your final words prepared.
If this is your first presentation, ending with a simple, “Thank you for your time” is fine.
If you want to take it up a notch, try closing on a positive note: “Let’s make this our best year yet!”