Why are some people masterful presenters and the rest of us borderline dibblers? In this guest post, the CEO of Presentation Studio, Emma Bannister (pictured below), says it’s probably fear and she offers some top tips to help you get over it…
Public speaking is frequently cited as our biggest fear – regardless of what role you have in an organisation. The mere thought of an upcoming presentation can give even the most high-profile public speaker anxiety and nerves (Richard Branson, anyone?). Think of that familiar feeling when your heart races, you feel butterflies flapping wildly in your gut, your breathing intensifies, and you feel a sense of heightened sensitivity as your limbs quiver with anticipation. Most of us recognise this as fear – but is it really, or is it something else?
“The difference between fear and excitement is the interpretation of our experience because the physiological effects in the body can feel the same,” explains Dr Jenny Brockis, author of Future Brain: The 12 Keys To Create Your High-Performance Brain.
“Healthy stress is useful to us because that increased tension, anticipation and restlessness means your body is simply preparing to help you step up to the challenge and succeed,” she adds.
The only difference between fear and excitement is the way you think about it.
One of the best tips I ever received was to use that feeling to my advantage, to reframe my nerves into excitement and use that energy in my presentation.
Yet one of the biggest mistakes people make when they have these feelings is to try and calm them down. Remember, your body is actually gearing up for battle, not for meditation, so when you do this, you’re working against what you naturally feel.
Instead, focus on releasing the pressure physically (jump up and down, run around the block, etc.), and tell yourself over and over how excited you are – even if at first, you don’t believe it. This can make a huge difference to your experience.
You will then turn that natural zing you feel into an opportunity to deliver in a way you couldn’t if you were in your comfort zone. Harnessing this energy, instead of denying it, transforms a good delivery into something quite remarkable.
Practice what you preach
Speaking publicly is daunting, but it will be less so if you have adequately prepared.
Practise your presentation out loud, not just in your head. your personality and passion shine, give the audience more than a report. Ask your friends, colleagues or family to critique you.
Don’t try and memorise the script, word for word – it‘s nearly impossible! When I first started trying to give my presentations like this, I froze. I would literally stop breathing, and the oxygen stopped flowing into my brain, so I had no idea where I was in the presentation script or what to say next.
Learn to breathe under stress – deep down into your diaphragm, not high up in your throat as you restrict your voice and your oxygen flow.
As my good friend and mentor, Dr Louise Mahler teaches, if your voice starts to crack and you feel like you need water – it is actually your ‘drowning’ reflex kicking in because you are allowing your fear to take over. The best trick here is to smile because when your cheeks lift, the tightness in your throat also releases.
Above all else, remember, what you focus on grows! Don’t focus on the poor outcome you are trying to avoid; instead, picture the positive outcome you most want to create.