By Marie Moran
Even the most polished business professionals get those jittery feelings known as “the butterflies” before going on stage, especially when the stakes are really high. Fortunately, there are proven steps every presenter can take to have greater ease, whatever size the audience!
1. Know your material.
This is the basis for ensuring ease and poise! If the content is new to you, rehearse more than usual, until you are comfortable with the material. Then, give thought to the content-related questions your audience may ask. Prepare your answers in advance.
2. Rehearse correctly.
Actors and trained speakers know the incredible power of proper rehearsal, but most non-professional presenters fail to rehearse correctly, if at all! Keep in mind that, like acting, presenting is a physical activity. If you rehearse only “in your head” by reading your notes or PowerPoint slides, you will not be prepared! Rehearsing correctly includes going through your presentation one or two times to refine content and to time the sections. Next, rehearse your actual physical delivery by running through the entire presentation one or more times fully, using your voice, posture, gestures, movement, eye contact, and interaction with slides. You’ll know you’re ready when the material flows smoothly and you easily anticipate your transitions.
3. Develop a strong opening, and stick with it.
The opening establishes your credibility and first impression with the audience, but it’s also when you’re coping with the highest adrenalin! It’s vital to get your opening words out of your mouth articulately and confidently, even while attempting to get initial presentation butterflies to fly in formation! Therefore, prepare specifically what you will say and do in your first 1-2 minutes. Write out 1 or 2 opening paragraphs, in which you focus on 3 or 4 key thoughts you want to get across. Keep sentences short and pithy so that when speaking, you can get plenty of breath. Although it doesn’t need to be memorized word for word, you should do a few run throughs until your opening is wired in. And don’t change up your opening at the last minute—that’s a formula for disaster!
4. Focus on being prepared, not perfect.
Once you know (and have rehearsed) where you’re going with your presentation, be sure to leave room for spontaneity along the way! You want your delivery to come across as planned, but not canned, to avoid appearing stiff, controlling, or unresponsive to audience reaction. For example, if you are over-rehearsed and locked into a specific delivery, you’re at risk of missing an important “audience vibe” that would cue you to move a little faster or slower through your material. The best presenters are prepared to respond to audience cues and adjust their flow.
5. Avoid negative self-talk prior to your presentation.
Your mind may chatter, “I wish I were more prepared,” “Oh no, the Senior VP is out there,”2. or “What if I lose my train of thought?” Negative thinking will throw you off your game entirely. Instead, stay present and focus on remaining calm. Replace negative chatter with acknowledgements such as “I’m ready”, “I can stay calm” or “I can have fun with this presentation.” Make it a regular part of your preparation for any presentation to keep picturing yourself relaxed and flowing in front of your audience.
6. Focus on breathing.
Breathing deeply is a requirement for good voice volume and tone. Start your deep breaths well before you take the stage–don’t wait until it’s time for you to begin speaking. As soon as you feel the adrenalin begin to flow, begin slow deep breaths to relax your breathing muscles so you’ll have sufficient breath support.
7. Slow down your eye movement.
“Flitting” eye movements overstimulate activity in the brain, which leads to feeling increased nerves. When speaking, slow down your eye movement by focusing on ‘one person to one thought’ in your delivery. You’ll come across steady and strong. (Keep in mind that one thought tends to be 5 to 6 seconds, much longer than you might think!) Spend one rehearsal focusing solely on deliberate, steady eye movement around the room, combined with proper breathing (Tip 6). Your presentation pace will become more relaxed and deliberate, and you’ll be better able to think.
8. Don’t fight the adrenalin – Use it!
It’s natural for the adrenalin to flow before a major event, athletic competition, or exciting yet challenging moment in our lives. Rather than being disabled by this surge of energy, harness its power by changing your perspective. When the butterflies start to flutter, consider that adrenalin as fuel for your passion and drive—it can greatly increase your performance power! Channel the energy into more dynamic gestures, vocal volume, and overall animation in your delivery. Use it to make your presentation vibrant and memorable – reach out and grab your audience!
© 2017 Marie Moran