If you often go for a nervous poo before presenting and have so many butterflies in your tummy just thinking about talking in front of people, this list from Drew Banks, head of international at presentation company Prezi is for you.
Presenting can be nerve-racking, particularly for people who aren’t regulars. As your palms start to sweat and your heart starts to race on stage, it’s easy to make a mistake or subconsciously trip yourself up.
There are some common blunders that can be avoided with practice and preparation. Here are some tips to overcome them.
1: Speaking like Mr. Micro Machine
Those of you who grew up in the 80s may remember “Micro Machine Man”, who spoke at lightening speed in his commercials, advertising pint-sized toy cars.
While this was fun to imitate when you were young, talking too fast isn’t something you want to do in a professional presentation. Unfortunately, it’s easy to do without you even noticing it.
When you’re nervous, your voice speeds up. Therefore, make a conscious effort to slow down your speech. If it sounds too slow to you, you are probably talking at a normal speed. Additionally, become comfortable with silence. Pausing between sentences or ideas will ground you and make you appear thoughtful. Also, avoid using fillers like “um” or “so.”. This takes practice. Record yourself and count how many filler words you use. You’ll be surprised. If you speak with confidence, your audience will find it much easier to pay attention—and take you more seriously.
2: “Winging it”
We’ve all been at a conference where the presenter gets up in front of the crowd and chokes—it is painful for them to experience and equally painful to watch. Whether the speaker forgets what comes next in their argument or gets tripped up by a tech mishap, the chances are they did not rehearse enough.
The best speeches are those that have been practiced religiously. Ironically, rigorous preparation helps you cope with the unexpected when you’re presenting. When you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to say next, you’ll find it much easier to deal with whatever happens to you on stage. So don’t wing your speech; practice in front of the mirror, in front of friends, even try recording yourself and going back to watch where you can improve. Check out this blog post for more tips on how to rehearse your presentations. The more you practice, the better your presentation will be.
3: Dilutive body language
Instead of standing still or pacing back and forth, be expressive with your body language. First, don’t be a statue—get out from behind your podium. Second, when you walk or gesture, do so to accentuate what you are saying or who you are saying it to. Don’t shuffle meekly to the front of the stage; take confident strides. And don’t forget your hands. Here are five tips on good and bad hand gestures to use when presenting.
4: Reading verbatim
We’ve all sat through meetings that felt more like a book reading than a presentation, and we all know that there’s no quicker way to put an audience to sleep than by reading directly from notes or a presentation deck. As the visualization expert Edward Tufte said, “The only thing worse than reading off a bulleted list is when the presenter combines that with the dreaded fade-in slow reveal.”
The index cards you hold in your hands and the graphics being projected overhead should contain only a few cues as to what you’re going to be talking about next, not your speech word-for-word. When you use your notes as talking points instead of a script, you automatically sound more conversational, and become much easier to listen to. Worried you won’t remember what to say next? Go back to blunder 2: this is where practice comes in.
An audience can easily see through the facade of an inauthentic presenter. Be real. Tell your audience personal stories to capture their attention. Make eye contact and smile. The more real you are, the more engaged your audience will be. Don’t fall into the trap of equating a practiced speech with an inauthentic one. Practice does not mean memorizing your presentation and robotically regurgitating it word for word. It means learning your material by heart, so that you can speak from the heart.