Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Get Over It! Handling Presentation Jitters

At a recent seminar I attended, a woman who was in the seminar with me expressed her nervousness about an upcoming speaking arrangement. Having just done a speaking engagement in March, I understood completely. Getting in front of a room full of people and performing (because let’s face it—that’s what you’re doing) can be nerve-wracking. But eight years as a theatre major and three years as a performance poet have taught me a thing or two about dealing with that nervousness, and I thought it would be good to share some of the tips I’ve learned.

1. Write your script beforehand, but don’t memorize it. The worst thing you can do is read from a script, or sound like you’ve got this thing memorized and you’re reading from a page. Remember Ben Stein? Bueller, Bueller… okay—old reference—but seriously, that’s what it sounds like. Write a complete script for yourself, rehearse it once or twice, but when it comes down to presentation time, speak from your outline (see next tip).

2. After you’ve rehearsed your script, create an outline and use that to guide you through your presentation. It’s very tempting to use the bullet points of the presentation to guide you (especially if you have it on a screen in front of you), but often, that will come out like you’re reading from a script again. Find the essence of the points you’re making, and create a brief outline, or “flow,” of touch points that will guide you to the topics you need to cover. Repeat the flow to yourself a couple of times just before you go up. Then, speak from your heart and your passion on the subject. After all, you likely didn’t accept a speaking engagement because you were bored!

3. Rehearse the day before, not the day of. Doing it ahead of time puts you at ease when the time comes—that way, you’ll be more prepared and less nervous.

4. Forget about it for a while. The day of your engagement, find whatever you can do relax and get your mind OFF the presentation until about 20 minutes before your presentation, and then review your flow just before you go on. The day of my first big presentation, and the day of any performance I’ve ever done (and I’ve done hundreds) I sang. I sang in the shower, I sang in the shower, I sang whatever song I could think of to sing for at least an hour before the performance. Then, about 10-20 minutes before the performance, I looked back at my notes, practiced for a little bit, took a few deep breaths, and went to it. That worked for me, but everyone is different. Find what works for you and commit to it.

5. Speak from your heart and remember your “why”. This was just covered, but it bears repeating. You’re doing this for a reason - maybe it’s to get new business, maybe it’s to get recognition, maybe it’s just because you love talking about the subject and want to share your knowledge with people. Whatever it is, figure out why you’re doing this and let that why guide you through your presentation. Show your passion for the subject, or your business, or whatever you’re speaking about.

6. Breathe. This can not be emphasized enough. Observe your breath for a few moments before you begin and make sure that your breath is full and complete. If it’s shallow, try this trick, common in yoga: breathe in for a count of five breaths, hold for a count of four, and breathe out for a count of eight breaths, expelling all the air. As you breathe, make sure that your breath is coming from your belly, not your chest. Your belly should be expanding as you breathe in, and contracting as you breathe out. Breathing this way will also help you project, which is key in large groups.

Hopefully, these tips will help you the next time you find yourself in front of a crowd, sharing your knowledge. Break a leg!

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