I have met many businessmen who are afraid of delivering public presentations for various reasons. It is surprising that such people have usually no problems with one-to-one meetings or with talking to small groups in a non-official environment.
There seem to be several reasons why business people could be very nervous before delivering public speeches. Below are some of them.
1. OUT OF PRACTICE
Poor performance at public presentations can be temporary. It can result from a simple lack of experience. It includes uncontrolled mimics, gestures, behaviours, trembling voice, etc. Once you are forced to get out of your comfort zone and to speak to the public on many occasions, you gradually learn how to do it. A helpful hand of friends or specialists can help you correct your mistakes.
2. SCARED OF THE PAST EXPERIENCE
Being afraid of speaking publicly can be permanent. You failed once or twice and you do not want it to repeat.
3. DOES CONTENT MATTER?
Being successful at public speaking is strictly related to the content you present and how well you understand it. Without bringing valuable content, you should not present. In general, if you are not prepared well for your presentation, you will fail or underperform. Preparations take time. Rome was not built in a day.
4. EXPECTING RESISTANCE OR CRITICISM
There are several presentation types which should be addressed separately:
to let people know about something (reporting)
to teach the audience (training)
to convince the audience about something (change making)
to sell big idea (audience inspiring)
When you want to deliver purely positive message or report the facts, it is easier to present unless a presenter is scared of presenting in general.
When your presentation can be controversial and raise considerable doubts, it becomes a serious task for a presenter. In such situation, your preparation is of double importance.
During public presentations, people are afraid of hearing embarrassing sentences like:
“It does not make sense”
“Where did you get it from?”
“You really do not know what you are talking about”
“The message from this slide does not match facts/conclusions from other slides”
There is a temptation to present what audience wants to hear (even if it is false or you do not agree with it). It is the moment when your character and leadership skills should take the floor. Otherwise, you are one of many average people.
5. WHO IS YOUR AUDIENCE?
There is a considerable difference between delivering your presentation to kids in a kinder garden and to your Board of Directors. In the latter case, there is not much room for mistakes and your knees may tremble. You should not forget that even top executives are usually human beings. They may be direct and not very diplomatic but a key to winning their hearts is convincing content.
When presenting to the top executives you may have to play a small political game but do your best to be yourself. Do not use ass-kissing tactics. Some executives like it but they never respect the kissers!
6. I HAVE TO BE PERFECT
Some managers with strong ego are great presenters. It may come as a surprise that not all of them are like that. I know several, successful managers, who melt like ice in spring when they have to speak publicly. They tend to think that they should know everything, cannot show their weaknesses or a lack of knowledge. They should have all answers to all questions and present them smoothly, if needed. Their strong ego or perfectionism works against them.
7. MEMORISING VS. BULLET POINTS
Many people believe that only memorising texts of their presentation guarantees a success. They are scared to death with a thought of forgetting what to say at any point of delivering their speeches. Well, managers are not actors who have to learn “Hamlet” by heart. I believe in having bullet points on each slide and talk about them with a logical flow of sentences as long as you fully understand the content. Since you can easily express your thoughts privately or at work, you will be fine with talking about each slide, one by one.
8. REAL REACTION OF AUDIENCE
Some presenters are afraid of situations of not getting traction with the audience with symptoms like nobody willing to comment, people yawning or laughing secretly. It may be caused by your presenting style or your content. If you are boring, work more on your content and presentation style. You can improve next time.
9. BELIEFS ABOUT AUDIENCE
Some people treat their audience as a firing squad trying to find all your weaknesses and send you to hell. When a topic is controversial to some, they may have a point.
The funny thing is that many people believe that even non-controversial presentations are like a public execution of the presenter. It is just their belief, not real world.
SOME TIPS TO OVERCOME A FEAR OF PUBLIC PRESENTATIONS:
Face the problem. Do not avoid it.
Ask yourself what really gets you frightened during public presentations. My coaching experience tells me that it is a surprisingly easy task for many “blocked” presenters. Following examples from this post, write the observations/beliefs down without cheating yourself.
Show your observations/beliefs to people you trust or your coach. Ask for their opinion. They will most likely tell you that your blocking beliefs are unjustified in their eyes.
Prepare your presentation well from visual and content perspective. Check the logical flow of slides. Spend enough time on it because when you fail with content, there is no chance that you will succeed.
When you plan to present controversial topics, learn different points of view. Even ask your opponents for opinion. If they see in your presentation that their opinion was considered by you, it will be easier for you to present.
Consider naming the problem at the beginning of your presentation to the audience. When you say: “My heart is beating fast. I must admit I am a bit afraid of public speaking”, a typical reaction of the audience is a round of encouraging applause. Now, your mistakes (if any) are more justified and accepted. It will immediately ease your tension as well.
Imagine you present to a few people even if you speak to millions on TV.
Go through your slideshow (slide by slide) before your presentation and tell your story aloud without audience. It will give you more confidence and you will correct mistakes of logical flow of slides and their key messages.
Be active during your presentation. Observe the audience. When you start losing attention and it is not about the content, react, make a break, ask question, do something.
Admit the fact that there are great and average presenters. Great public speakers can have a gift. You may not be one of them. Being an average presenter is good, too.
Ask yourself what questions can be asked by the audience. Get ready for answering them. When you do not know the answer, admit it and promise to find out later. It is human not to know all the answers!
Leave your strong ego behind the door of the presentation room. At least, do your best. “Sell” your message rather than yourself.
Thank you for reading this post. What has been your experience with public presentations? Leave a comment below.