When I saw the title “My Presentation” beaming from the projector I knew I was in trouble.
The only thing worse than a crappy presentation is a crappy presentation by a crappy presenter oblivious to the pain they are putting their audience through.
In this case, an audience of one.
No one next to me that could share my pain.
No comrades who would understand the meaning behind my sighs and under-breath mutterings.
Afterwards my diplomatic colleagues would describe me as a victim.
The less diplomatic ones described me as a hostage.
…with Peppy Pete.
His real name was Keith, but nicknamed “Peppy” because he was the least peppy person you are ever likely to meet.
Today’s presentation topic was already long forgotten as Peppy Pete transitioned to slide number 2.
I gasped… As Peppy started making sounds I scanned slide number 2.
The heading was “Graph.”
Sure enough, underneath the heading was a graph!
As Peppy flicked the red laser around the screen, I tried to make sense of all the tiny writing surrounding the aforementioned chart. After straining my eyes for a couple of seconds I gave up and tuned in to Peppy’s noises.
A good 4 minutes later Peppy concluded slide 2 by telling me that his department was now 2% more efficient than this time last month.
I can’t help thinking if Peppy had started with “2% more efficient” the rest of the noises he’d made about his chart would have made more sense.
No matter, it’s time to move on to slide number 3.
Looking up in the air Peppy asks a rhetorical question… “So, do you think we can be more efficient?”
The silence lingers for too long.
Peppy suddenly spins around to look at me.
My mind races as Peppy gives me a crazy stare, and then I realize… It wasn’t a rhetorical question, Peppy wants me to answer. But it’s been too long, I’ve forgotten what he asked. So I just say, “Yes.”
Peppy smiles, nods his head, and turns back to look at the screen.
Slide number 3 appears.
Peppy has followed the 6 by 6 rule to the letter. Six words in each of the six bullet points. Not even space on the slide for a distracting piece of clipart.
Looking at the screen, Peppy carefully reads the first bullet point, underlining it with his red laser as he talks.
Peppy flicks the red laser back and forth under the bullet he’s reading. He pauses. Looks back to make sure his “audience” gets it.
“Who are you looking at?” I want to scream.
Peppy turns back to the screen and elaborates on those short six words, all the while the red laser dances around the screen.
It was a long afternoon.
Why did Peppy Pete deliver such a boring presentation?
Many would say that it is just him… But I think it comes down to something that affects us all at one time or another:
Peppy Pete was so anxious about his presentation, so panicked in the lead-up, that his delivery was badly impacted. Similar to how most business presentations are impacted.
The anxiety, the worry, the nerves, the stage fright. This is what’s destroying presentations around the world. Right now, as you are reading this, a number of Peppy Pete’s out there are boring their audiences to tears.
How can you deal with stage fright? Here are 11 ways to crush stage fright forever…
#1 See your audience as a friend
You know one of the main reasons that you’re panicking and stressed out before your presentation?
You’re concerned about the audience judging you.
No one likes to be judged. And it’s even worse when you’re putting yourself out there, standing in front of the people who will judge you.
Stop thinking you’re about to be judged.
The audience wants you to succeed. The audience wants you to do well.
How do I know this with such certainty?
If you fail it’s not just uncomfortable for you. It’s also downright uncomfortable for the audience watching you crash and burn.
When I watched Peppy Pete’s performance, I didn’t want him to fail because my job as his audience becomes much harder.
The audience is on your side. They are your friends.
#2 Don’t be afraid of mistakes
You know a surefire way to mess up?
Try to be perfect.
The more you try to avoid mistakes, the more you’ll make them.
The more you try to avoid mistakes, the more scripted and unnatural your talk will feel.
You will make mistakes no matter what, so a focus on perfection is a ginormous waste of time.
Also, consider that the audience doesn’t know what you are going to say, so if you forget something they won’t even notice!
#3 Prepare so you can’t forget
There are usually two ways of preparing a talk:
- Practice your script over and over again
- Do no practice and rely on the bullet points in your slides to guide you
Both options are losing strategies.
Practicing your script over and over is a waste of time. You won’t remember everything perfectly. In business, no one has time to memorize a 10 or 20 minute talk.
Relying on your bullet points to guide you is certain to have your audience irritated.
When your bullet points guide you, you end up spending lots of time reading from the screen and not much time talking clearly and persuasively about your presentation topic.
As an alternative, try this:
- Know your topic really well
- Prepare keywords of the main talking points in your presentation
- When you deliver your presentation, elaborate on the main keywords with a view to driving the audience where you need them to be at the end of your talk
#4 Don’t be formal
Formality will kill your presentation.
Of course, you have to speak respectfully and diplomatically during your talk…
Trying to use big, complicated words and speaking very formally will make your presentation seem forced, somewhat artificial.
Speak respectfully, but talk as you would in a regular conversation.
#5 Push to the audience
Those first few seconds when you’re on stage is a nightmare!
What are you going to say?
How are you going to stand?
Will your face go red with embarrassment?
Here’s the solution:
Know what you are going to say when you first get on stage before you get there. And what you say should act to move the focus away from yourself, to push to the audience.
Here’s how to do it:
Decide what you can ask your audience that’s related to your presentation. The question should serve to push the audience to give you some kind of response.
Once you’ve asked the question the focus is off you for a few seconds, allowing you to become more comfortable on stage and think about the next part of your talk.
Imagine you’re introducing a more efficient way of using the weekly reports system. You could start with a question like, “What is your number one complaint with the current weekly reports system?”
#6 Empathize with the audience
There’s a really cool way to get the audience on your side…
Show them that you understand them.
Audiences are used to sitting in business presentations and listening to the presenter drone on about what the presenter wants to talk about. The presenter having not a care in the world about what the audience is going through.
If you do the opposite of the norm, your job on stage becomes a lot easier. You can control stage fright by knowing you can talk about your presentation topic in a way the audience wants to listen to you.
Empathize with them.
“What administrative tasks get you bogged down most at work?…….. I see, unfortunately we can’t fix that today but what I’m going to show you will give you back some free time. It’s called the…”
#7 Have a conversation
It’s very hard to build a connection with someone when you are acting.
If you practice your gestures, speak from a script, look at cue cards, and spend the rest of your time looking at the slides you come across as false. Fake. Like you’re acting.
Build a connection with your audience by being genuine and having a conversation with them.
Interact with your audience, ask them questions, and talk “with” them. The same as you would in a regular conversation.
This will relax you, give your more thinking time, and will result in a stronger presentation.
#8 Slow down
Stop talking so fast.
When you talk really fast, you know what happens? You don’t breathe smoothly and your heart rate increases. Then you talk faster and more incoherently and it becomes a vicious cycle.
The result… You sound scared and you look nervous.
Slow down, take deep breaths, and don’t be afraid to pause.
#9 Don’t introduce slides until you’ve spoken to your audience
When you show a slide and then start talking your natural flow is to talk about the slide.
Talking about the slide can hinder your presentation and make you seem robotic. Also, it can put you into “I better not make a mistake” mode.
Start your talk with the slides off and introduce your topic from the center of the room. The audience will likely be more engaged and you’ll be more relaxed.
#10 Replace the slides with a whiteboard
Better than starting with the slides off, do away with the slides altogether.
When you need to emphasize a point, use the whiteboard.
Turn your “presentation” into a “discussion.”
Your talk will be more natural and you’ll be more relaxed.
#11 Don’t try to stick to time limits
If you’re given 20 minutes for your presentation, you don’t need to fill the full 20 minutes.
Treat the 20 minutes as a maximum, not a target.
Focus on getting your point across rather than reaching a time goal.
What do you think? Let’s chat in the comments below….