So you've been asked to deliver a keynote speech at a big conference; or, you're going to present at your company's AGM; or, you're about to deliver a 'State of the Union' address to your team. No matter the size or setting, presenting makes people nervous. I've had some presenters tell me they don't get nervous, and I've come up with an appropriate name for those people: liars. Let's just face the fact that at some point between the moment you enter the room, and the moment you walk off the stage, there will be some degree of nervousness that you will deal with. Below are five easy tips to remember, to fight your nerves.
1. Know Your Stuff!
Nothing will calm you down more than knowing your material. My tip for presenters is to learn their content out of order, before you put your story together. So, develop and finalize your story in slides; then, mix up the slides into a random order, and practise. Know what it is you have to say on each slide. This is also a good way to discover which slides can be left on the cutting room floor. And last, re-assemble your story, and practise like mad. By studying out of order, you will have less fear, and less anxiety about what is coming next. You'll have much more poise and confidence. Try it.
2. Get Out Of Your Head
Those final moments before taking the stage can be torture. You, alone with your thoughts, backstage, letting your mind get the best of you. It's dangerous. You may think you're doing a great thing by reviewing your presentation in your head, one last time before it goes live, but remember, you already know your stuff perfectly, so this is actually a harmful activity. Believe me, you won't spontaneously forget everything once you climb those steps, so take these last few minutes to clear your head. Talk to someone about a completely different subject matter. Talk sports. Tell a joke. Laugh with someone. And believe me, there's always someone around willing to engage (try the A/V guys). Walk up on stage with a smile on your face, and a clear head - and then get down to business.
3. Take a Break
Anxiety is a slippery slope. Once it starts, and you become aware of the signs, it becomes more and more difficult to break free. Didn't mean to make you nervous there, but it's true. If you find your heart rate increasing, or your leg shaking, or your brow sweating, you need to take a break to stop anxiety in its tracks. Break the cycle. A simple and effective type of break is what I call 'The Connection.' Take a break in your story to connect with an individual audience member. You need to get back to the sort of human connection and language that you're comfortable with.
"Before I continue, I'd like to ask you a question. Who here considers themselves a big hockey fan?"
[ a large number of hands go up, and you pick out someone in first row ]
"You sir. Who would you say is the most important player on the ice?"
[ He gives his answer, and you move on to person two ]
"And how about you? Who is the most important player?"
Do this with three or four people, to get some different answers, and then transition this to the Teamwork section of you presentation, which was coincidentally coming up next. If you needed even more time, you could segue into a hockey/team related story. What you have just done accomplishes two things. First, you've given the audience a break, by lightening the mood, and engaging them in a bit of 'fun.' Second, you've given yourself a breather, and taken your mind off your slides. More importantly, you've connected eye-to-eye with three or four people, and engaged in casual conversation. Hopefully, this has given your nerves a break, and you are now rebooted, and ready to continue. It's more than OK to do this a few times during a presentation. Audiences enjoy the break - and you will too.
This is a big one. Exercising can help in all aspects of your pre-presentation nerves. Exercising releases happy chemicals in the brain; reduces stress; energizes you; eases anxiety; and boosts your confidence. A miracle, right? The only issue is that this is sometimes tricky to tackle before it's your time to shine. If you can work out at 7am, and be onstage at 9 or 10, then you're set. But what if you have little to no time beforehand? You can always do something simple in and around the meeting room. Some ideas are a brisk walk to, or around the meeting space; a few reps lifting a heavy table backstage (don't break anything); a few push-ups, or jumping jacks - if you're not the sweaty type. I've even seen a presenter shadow boxing backstage. Not sure if he won or lost the fight. Find something that works for you, and put your mind in a happy place.
Simple but often overlooked. Many presenters head straight for those banquet tables, and grab one or two (or five) cups of coffee before it's their turn. This is usually accompanied by a remark like "I need my coffee." or "I need my energy before I go on." Belive me, if you have a tendency toward stage fright, or anxiety, the absolute last thing you need is caffeine. I know it's tough, but on the day of your big talk, restrict yourself to water - and plenty of it. This will not only make you feel more alert and clear-headed, but will fight the dreaded dry mouth that is associated with anxiety. Simple but effective.