Sam Kavitz was shaking.
He’d been dreading this moment for over a month.
Weeks of stress and tepid amounts of preparation.
Finally the day had arrived.
Watching from an adjoining room, Sam could see the stage.
The speaker on before him was into the last few minutes of his presentation.
The more confident that speaker looked, and the closer he got to end, the more Sam felt like throwing up.
Sam’s hands were wet and cold.
He stared blankly out at the stage.
It took him a while to notice the lady standing next to him.
What was she asking? She sounded blurry.
Water… Water? Sam didn’t want water now!
But he couldn’t find the right words to decline politely.
His head was a jumble of fear, stress, and forgotten lines. His tongue dry.
“No.” he bluttered.
The lady slinked away muttering to herself.
Applause sounded and the speaker left the stage.
Sam closed his eyes and tried to slow his breathing.
The MC was saying something. He looked back towards the room where Sam stood.
It was time.
Sam’s breathing became more labored, his ears hot.
He slowly made his way to the stage.
If you’ve ever felt like Sam you’re not alone.
Doing a presentation is one of the toughest things you’ll ever have to do.
Here are 9 unlikely presentation techniques to reduce your stress and boost your confidence.
1. Give PowerPoint the flick
…At least until much later.
“PowerPoint” has become synonymous with “presentation”.
This association is unfortunate.
Most “presentations” now consist of PowerPoint bullet points playing the main role and the speaker supporting by reading the bullet points to the audience.
There are a couple of reasons why starting with PowerPoint, and making it the main event, are bad.
Firstly, you’re setting up an awful presentation for the audience.
A presentation where they will be reminded what it was like to be read to in kindergarten as they sat in a circle around the teacher.
Secondly, you’re setting yourself up to fail in a big way.
Such a heavy reliance on PowerPoint forces you to be a reader rather than a presenter. Which means building a relationship with the audience will be an uphill battle.
Starting with PowerPoint means planning with PowerPoint.
When you plan with PowerPoint you tie your delivery to the slides.
When you tie your delivery to the slides you become reliant on them. Your delivery becomes less enthusiastic, less dynamic, less persuasive.
PowerPoint can add value to your presentation but only if it plays a supporting role.
Plan to prepare your slides as the last step in the preparation process- once you know what you are going to say and how you’re going to say it.
2. Throw away the script
It’s important to know what you are going to say, BUT…
You want to sound credible and confident.
Writing out a script is likely to make you sound incredible (not in a good way) and unconfident.
In business, you rarely have enough time to practice a script and get it word-perfect. You’ve got other things to do, reports to write, deadlines to meet.
As a result, you can probably only get enough practice in to get half of the script memorized.
With half a script memorized you can’t possibly do a confident and credible presentation.
You end up sounding robotic with lots of errs and ummms, as you look up at the ceiling trying to remember your next line.
Instead of writing out a script and trying to memorize it, focus the time you have on understanding your subject really well.
Once you know your subject, plan the key topic areas you’ll talk about in your presentation.
The more in depth your understanding of the subject the more credible and confident you’ll be on stage.
3. Find out what your audience wants and give it to them
The relationship you have with your audience is perhaps the biggest factor in the success, or failure, of your presentation.
The good news is, you can build a good relationship with your audience very quickly.
The better your relationship, the more relaxed and confident you’ll feel.
The key to this relationship is to find out what they want.
Most audiences want to feel the presenter understands them, so show them you do.
Open your presentation with empathy.
Contrast these two openers:
Opener 1: “Thanks for you time. This morning I’d like to introduce you to the new DooHickey client relationship system.”
Opener 2: “If you’re tired of the constant lockups with current client relationship system. If you’re sick of waiting for support requests to be resolved. If you’ve had enough of being told to restart your computer… I have some good news for you. I’d like to introduce the new DooHickey client relationship system.”
Which one of the above openers is more likely to get the audience’s attention and build your relationship with them?
4. Don’t waste time with practice
…Certain kinds of practice, anyway.
Practice is a good thing.
Provided you’re using your time wisely.
Once you understand your subject and you know the key points you’re going to cover, practicing on video or in front of the mirror is a positive move.
You don’t, however, have to practice these things:
2. Body language
3. Eye contact
Gestures, body language, and eye contact should look natural.
Practice gesturing on particular words or looking at each audience member for a specified number of seconds will make you look robotic.
And frankly, you’ll look a bit weird.
Eye contact does not need to be practiced. A simple glance at each participant as you are talking is enough.
Body language does not need to be practiced. Maintain an open body position, and if you choose to move make sure it is purposeful and not just nervous energy.
Gestures do not need to be practiced. Maintain an open body position and know your subject well and the gestures will happen naturally.
5. Don’t be afraid of mistakes
The funny thing about mistakes is the more you try to avoid them the more likely they are to occur.
Going in to your presentation you should have the following mindset:
“Mistakes will probably happen. When they do I will deal with them and move on.”
Having this mindset will help you be cool and calm when inevitable slip ups happen.
If you make a mistake or forget something don’t sweat it. The audience only knows you made a mistake if you tell them.
If you forget a point, just move on to the next point and come back later. If you say something incorrectly just correct yourself quickly and move on.
6. Don’t stress over minimum time limits
You’ve been told you have to speak for 15 minutes.
With an hour to go before your presentation you’re panicking.
You only have enough material to fill about 11 minutes.
What are you going to do?
And don’t be temped to try and lengthen your presentation by adding lots of filler words and empty time (remember doing this kind of thing when writing essays at school?)
Just speak for the 11 minutes, answer questions, then sit down.
The audience will appreciate 11 minutes of solid content compared to 15 minutes of panicked umms, ahhs, and watch-checking.
7. Embrace silence
Silence is your friend.
During your talk it is okay to pause.
- Replace filler words with a pause and you’ll appear more confident
- Regain the audience’s attention with a slightly longer than normal pause
- Replace panic with a pause when you momentarily forget something
8. Answer questions carefully
Understand what you are being asked and answer succinctly.
Don’t answer any questions without fully understanding what was asked.
It’s a trap that you want to avoid because it can damage your credibility.
When someone asks a question that is not immediately clear, clarify your understanding before answering.
When you are answering be succinct.
The longer you take to answer the question the more time the audience has to formulate more challenging questions for you.
9. End on a high note
End your presentation on a positive note.
To end on a positive note you need to do some planning up front.
If the subject matter you are introducing is likely to be controversial with the audience you may want to plan to take questions throughout your presentation. Bunching them all up to the end could close out your presentation on a negative note.
If you have positive news then leaving questions to the end will probably work best. It allows you to convey your happy message and then handle softer questions.
As a final point, try not to end with a simple “Thank you.”
Instead go for something more upbeat like, “This project wouldn’t be possible without all of the extra work you’ve done. Together we’ve achieved the impossible!”
What do you think? Let’s chat in the comments below…