Any type of presenting can be daunting
And it’s even worse when your audience looks like they would be more at home on the set of a zombie apocalypse movie! Fortunately, you can learn how to be a master of persuasion, captivate your audience, and leave them wanting more. Let’s explore how you can become a confident and effective public speaker or presenter, beginning with your own thought processes.
Panicked presenters lack confidence
If you’re nervous, it’s hard to engage your audience. People see your nervousness and become apprehensive that you are going to mess up. They know how uncomfortable they’ll feel when that happens. They become agitated with a tense speaker, which, ironically, causes the speaker to become more apprehensive.
Nervous presenters focus negatively on themselves
When you’re focused on how you feel, how people are reacting to you, and whether you’re breathing, you’re not thinking about how you’re presenting, or even your audience! Of course, all these things are important as a presenter, but uneasy speakers focus on the negative aspects of these. For example:
“OMG! I’m so nervous, my gut is in knots, I can hardly breathe and these people look as if they hate me — and I haven’t uttered a word yet!”
Ok, you may think I’m exaggerating — I’m not. Truthfully, this is how many reluctant presenters and public speakers think.
Contrast this thinking with the way a confident presenter sees his audience:
“OMG! Look at this wonderful group of people! They’re sitting there waiting to hear what I have to say. This is my opportunity to make an impact. I’m so excited, take a deep breath, and let’s go!”
Your own mindset as a speaker makes all the difference
The quality of your thoughts affects how you feel. While those thoughts may be outside your awareness, they’re still having a massive impact. Noticing the movies you’re playing in your mind, your internal chatter, and how you hold yourself are the first steps to mastering your confidence as a speaker.
Let’s start with the images
Are you making horror movies in your mind?
I’ve coached hundreds of people to help them resolve their presentation panic. Without exception, their nervousness stems from unwanted and unhelpful images of their audience and themselves.
Typically, in their minds’ eye, nervous speakers represent their audience in several of the following ways:
- The people are 10 or 20 per cent bigger than they are in real life.
- They have angry or disappointed faces.
- They are shouting, jeering, booing or heckling (or all four!).
- They’re throwing things such as rotten tomatoes at the speaker.
- They are higher than the speaker, looking down on him or her.
- They’re too close for comfort!
I’m not joking! Remember, presenters don’t do this on purpose. They’re just not aware of how they’re causing their own anxiety. They’re only conscious of how they feel.
So, if you don’t feel good about presenting or speaking, check what images or horror movies you’re making in relation to standing up in front of a group of people. They’re only people, after all; you know human beings that you see every day!
Confident and charismatic speakers think differently
That’s probably no surprise! Confident speakers perceive their audience positively:
- They see them as normal-sized human beings, possibly distracted as they’re waiting for the speaker to present.
- They’re on the same level as the speaker — or slightly below — and at a comfortable distance.
- They’re smiling and eager to learn and engage with the speaker.
Notice that the thinking process of both the nervous and the confident speaker is the same; representing in their mind an audience of some sort. But in their imagination, how their audience behaves is different. These images have nothing to do with the actual audience, only the speaker’s depiction of them.
Apprehensive presenters construct similarly grim images of themselves:
- Having a bunch of cue cards which they drop and can’t get back in order.
- Being stunned into silence — unable to utter a sound.
- Shaking uncontrollably.
- Stumbling or falling as they take the stage or platform.
- Unable to get the mic, the computer or some other technical equipment to work.
- Having a clothing malfunction (their fly comes undone or their bra strap breaks!)
While very creative, those types of images are enough to make anyone anxious!
The internal chatter
Both types of presenters mind-read (that’s a technical term — No, really! — it is!) what their audience thinks of them. Then behave as if their mind-reading is accurate!
Unconfident presenters use negative, harsh language
They project the audience doesn’t like them, doesn’t want to be there, hates listening to them, and can’t wait to leave! They’re not sure that what they have to say is worth listening to.
Confident presenters believe they have something worthwhile to share
They understand the audience will find what they have to say interesting and useful and, thus, they will enjoy the opportunity to speak.
Once again, the process that both speakers use is similar, but the content of their thinking varies substantially.
Posture, stance or how you hold yourself
I don’t know that I even need to go into this because I’m pretty sure we’ve all been in the presence of both tense and confident speakers. Personally, I never even want to look at a hesitant speaker because I feel so uncomfortable. I want to leave because I know their presenting skills will be a disaster.
Confident thinking shows in the way you carry yourself
With a confident speaker, I can relax. I know they won’t become nervous and that I won’t feel embarrassed for them. Even if I don’t like what they have to say, at least I’ll hear them! Hesitant speakers provoke me to focus on their discomfort, distracting me from hearing their message.
I daresay you can easily imagine the posture of a nervous person about to present, just as easily as you can visualise a self-assured speaker.
Isn’t it OK to feel nervous?
No, it isn’t!
I’m quite adamant about this because just about everyone I’ve coached to be better presenters say the same thing;
“Well, I’ve been told it’s OK to be nervous. It’ll make me a better speaker.”
Sorry, but that’s bullshit! I usually ask them how being nervous has been working out for them (yes, I know I’m evil!).
Excited to be speaking? Yes! But it’s a complete myth that being nervous will make you a better speaker, probably promoted by nervous speakers who are now teaching other nervous speakers. Think about this logically:
- You’re going to be talking to people — not a group of aliens from another planet, and not a firing squad. These are people, just like you, who go to the toilet! You talk to people every day without getting nervous or anxious.
- Think about other professions; would you pick the most panicked, nervous person in a room to be your leader? Think about how you’d feel facing a nervous dentist!
- Would you choose an anxious Uber driver to get you safely to your destination?
You always want to deal with people who know what they’re talking about and who have an air of confidence.
There are only three ways you can feel less than confident in presenting:
- You don’t know what you’re talking about.
- You’re doing stuff in your head that’s turning you into a blithering idiot!
- You’re overwhelmed by the construction of your presentation; you’re not sure where to start, in what order to present your information, or how to build rapport with and engage your audience.
If you don’t know what you’re talking about, then it’s probably best that you don’t give a presentation. If you know what you’re talking about, but are stuck with numbers 2 and 3, I understand. And I can help!
Gaining confidence in presenting
There are other factors that contribute to your ability to present confidently;
- Dealing with questions.
- Storyboarding and preparing slides.
- Building rapport with your audience.
- Etc., etc.,
I can’t cover them all in this blog post, but fortunately, you can get all the information you need to prepare yourself and your content from my eBook: Presentations That Rock. And, if you would like some more help, check out my SHIFT Coaching. I’ll help you get past your panic and become a poised, confident presenter.
Or read about Jeremy Hughes transformation from being so anxious he would shake, to confidently presenting to hundreds of people.
From Nervous to Confident
“‘Presentations That Rock’ helped guide me from being a very nervous, novice speaker to a more confident one. By following the step-by-step guidelines written in simple terms, I was able to structure my speech and deliver it effectively. The light-hearted humour makes it more enjoyable to read and follow. It was a game-changer for me in the way I write and deliver my presentations”.
Pisey Leng-International Best-Selling Author of The Wisdom Seeker and TedX speaker
Recap: Presenting confidently
- To become a confident and effective public speaker or presenter, you must focus on your thought processes.
- Panicked presenters lack confidence, and their nervousness affects their ability to engage the audience.
- Confident and charismatic speakers perceive their audience positively, while apprehensive presenters construct harsh images of themselves and their audience.
- Both types of speakers mind-read what their audience thinks of them, but confident speakers believe they have something worthwhile to share.
- Finally, the way you hold yourself can show if you are a confident or hesitant speaker.
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