How to Appear Charming vs. Fearful When We Present

All of us (even esteemed presenters) have really lost it when we present. Sometimes we find a high-stakes audience member spooks us. Or, we suddenly question our credibility and whether we’re qualified to present. When you combine an unexpected fear of the audience, a lack of familiarity with the subject matter, no wonder business presenters can feel spooked. This blog provides some tips for remaining grounded once you hit the floor.

Keep Things Short

Presentations needn’t become exceedingly long. An informative presentation shouldn’t exceed three minutes; a persuasive one can remain extremely effective within five minutes. With a tight, targeted, well-structured presentation, vs. a long, flabby one, you will gain power and confidence as you present.

Imagine the Group as One

If you’ve worked in broadcasting, you’ll know the old trick of pretending the microphone is one person; someone you adore and trust. The same trick works well in presenting environments. Focus on the smiling, bobbing head in the audience. If you see that high-stakes person you wish to impress, try avoiding them, unless they’re smiling, in which case, speak to them directly as you present. Sir Richard Branson (who struggles with fear of public speaking) also uses this technique to ground himself when he presents.

Interact With (and Hook) Your Audience

Interacting with your audience does wonders for presenting anxiety. Consider rhetorical questions as your opening hook. Ask for a show of hands on different topics. As you conclude, offer the audience homework—a short series of asks/actions —to help drive home your points. Jamie Oliver, the famed British chef, expertly incorporates intriguing data and rhetorical questions at the top of his presentation in this endearing TED Talk. 

Own Your Nervousness

If you can’t control your nervous body reaction, no worries. Own it. Share with the crowd that you feel pleasantly surprised to see how many came today to hear you speak. Try grounding phrases such as, “If I appear nervous, it’s because I’m breathless and excited.” Also consider:

  • Not holding papers if your nervousness manifests itself in your shaking hands.
  • Walking vs. standing still. Avoid body fidgets such as chair swiveling or jiggling your foot where possible.
  • Removing corrective eye wear so you can’t see beyond the first line in the crowd.
  • Avoiding upward inflection lest your statements sound like questions.
  • Drinking water to avoid dry mouth.
  • Leaving the podium briefly to ground yourself if the nerves take over too much. Even seasoned presenters do this, and with impressive results.

Ground and Reassure Yourself

If you’re presenting online, nobody can see beyond your web cam view. In which case, burning aromatic candles such as sandalwood, lavender and chamomile help tremendously at grounding nervous presenters. Crack your window (if possible) to provide fresh, calming air.

For live presentations, you also have yoga breathing, yoga, positive visualization and other techniques to get yourself off the ledge. Dr. Andrew Weil offers this excellent breathing technique to reduce stress-induced anxiety.

Have mantras on hand. From clients I’ve coached, I’ve heard the following mantras do wonders for boosting our precious confidence:

  • Nobody knows the content better than you. You’re the subject matter expert.
  • You feel scared because you care. Your passion for the topic will pull you through.
  • You’re worthy. You’ve got this. (This mantra works great if your anxiety stems from childhood insecurity and/or hardship.)
  • Everyone has butterflies. Make yours fly in formation.

Draw From Your Childhood

I spent my early childhood on a sheep farm in New Zealand. Therefore, before a high-stakes meeting or presentation, I often imagine myself under the orchard trees or at the highest hill top looking out. Before you address your audience, remember how far you’ve come and how honored you feel to present today. After all, presenting on something we care about is an honor indeed.

For more on public speaking fear, read here. 




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