A Fate Worse Than Death: Tips to Take the
Terror Out of Giving Presentations
By Roger Seip
scarier to most Americans than spiders, heights, or even death? There
hasn’t been a horror movie made about it yet, but more than 75% of
Americans surveyed report that they suffer from “glossophobia,” a
debilitating fear of public speaking. Statistically, far more of us
claim that we would prefer death to giving a speech; even comedian
Jerry Seinfeld used to joke that at a funeral, most people would
rather be lying in the casket than delivering the eulogy.
Why is the
prospect of trying to communicate information in front of even one
person so horrifying? Most glossophobes fear looking bad, being
criticized, suffering rejection, and losing business or friends—all
because they are certain they will forget what they’d planned to
say. Maybe you have had the experience of forgetting a speech or
presentation, or you’ve seen it happen to someone else, and you
don’t want it to happen to you. Ever.
What’s wrong with rote? Most people memorize speeches by rote—or
word-for-word repetition—and try to deliver it exactly as they’ve
written it. You probably don’t realize that this method of learning
is actually setting you up to forget what you’re supposed to say
because it creates tremendous stress, which is in turn the number one
killer of memory.
Or if you
do manage to remember every single word you’d planned to say, the
effort requires so much mental energy that you come off as a terrible
communicator. You’re not really there
while you’re speaking because all of your efforts go into
remembering what comes next. If, heaven forbid, something distracts
you, or someone interrupts you with a question during a memorized
presentation, thinking about anything other than “What comes
next?” can throw you completely off-track. Your mind may literally
go blank, just as you feared.
there’s one more problem with word-for-word learning: 93% of our
communication happens non-verbally. The majority of the message your
audience receives has very little to do with the actual words you say
but with body language, tone of voice, gestures, and facial
expressions. So you can’t expect to convey ease and expertise
non-verbally if your mental and physical energies are completely
preoccupied with delivering a verbatim speech. You’ll simply be too
tense, and it will show.
And what’s wrong with notes? What about the security blanket of an
outline or notes? You may feel you need notes to stay on track when
giving a presentation, but if you’re tied to those notes, you
aren’t free to make eye contact, a key element of non-verbal
communication. You’ll also be stuck behind a podium, and if people
can’t see two-thirds of your body, that has a serious impact on the
93% non-verbal communication aspect of your presentation. Notes may
make you feel a little better, but they also take away a crucial tool
for your effectiveness.
As a real
estate professional, for example, when you’re discussing listing or
selling a prospect’s home, an effective presentation is one in which
you are clearly the expert and know more about selling a home than the
person who wants the home sold. Likewise, an American who is fluent in
French doesn’t need to reference a French translation guide while
vacationing in Paris. So if you’re fluent in your topic, you shouldn’t need to consult
your notes, and your audience of one or many will sense this on a
subconscious level. However, if you feel you must use notes, consult
them very little or not at all, and you’ll gain huge credibility as
Four Tips to Relieve Presentation Terror: Regardless of how deeply
rooted your fear of public speaking is, with a few simple adjustments
to your method of preparation, you can grow more confident about your
abilities so that much of your fear disappears. When you know what
you’re going to say and that your presentation is strong,
public-speaking may still be a little nerve-wracking, but it’s
exciting, too. Try these tips to help turn that stomach-turning
anxiety into the rush of great communication.
you’re talking about. When you prepare an organized
presentation of any kind, you must be knowledgeable about the
company, product, or situation. Talk about things you actually
know well. If you’re not confident that you know all that you
need to, commit to doing thorough research and learn what you need
to know to feel and look expert. If you truly don’t know what
you’re talking about, it will show, and all the tricks and
techniques in the world won’t help.
Decide on a
few key points. Good keynote speakers typically don’t have
more than three or four key things for the audience to take away
from their presentations. The classic presentation formula is a
story that makes the audience laugh in the beginning, a few key
points for them to take away (usually illustrated with stories),
followed by an emotionally moving story at the end. Another
basic formula for effective communication is:
h Tell your audience what you’re going to tell
them. h Tell them.
h Tell them what you told them.
visual triggers. Invent pictures in your mind and “store”
them in various places around the room where you’ll deliver the
presentation. The pictures then become your speech. For example,
if one of your points is about achieving goals, you can envision a
set of goal posts as a visual representation of that concept. If
you want to make a point about freedom, envision an American flag
somewhere in the room, or a huge stack of money if you want to
talk about increasing profits.
fun and be yourself. People respond best to a message when the
person delivering it is genuine. With sufficient preparation of
the right type, you’ll feel comfortable enough to be yourself in
front of a group. You can then demonstrate how much you believe in
what you’re saying. When you can relax and be an authentic human
being, you tap into powerful communication.
From Fearful to Fearless: You’ve undoubtedly heard a few
presentations—both good and bad—in your day, so you know it’s a
fact: you listen to and respect those speakers who talk to
you, not at you. A
conversation is always better than a lecture, isn’t it? When you are
preparing to make a presentation, know that people don’t mind if you
stumble over a couple of words; in most cases they don’t even
notice. What they will notice, though, and mind a great deal, is being read to or
BS’d. If your audience feels as if you’re insincere or
unknowledgeable, they may give you real reason to be a glossophobe!
But if you’re prepared, knowledgeable, and relaxed, you can expect
to get the results you want, whether that’s more sales, promotions,
or thunderous applause from your devoted audience.
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