9 Steps to Better Presentations: Part 8 – Rehearse

9_-_A_Simple_Guide_to_Better_Presentations.026NOTE: This is the eighth in a series of posts taken from our guide 9: A Simple Guide to Better Presentations. Can’t wait and want to get it all now? Download the eBook for FREE here.

Want to know the one thing that may improve your talk more than anything else?

It’s the one thing most people won’t do: practice.

Rehearsing your presentation gets you comfortable with your material. The more comfortable you are before you speak, the less you’ll feel the urge to run away on the big day (stage fright).

Plus, the people who’ve come to hear you deserve your best, don’t they?

Steve Jobs rehearsed. George Carlin and Henry Fonda rehearsed. And they were pros.

An Unconventional But Surefire Way to Overcome Stage Fright (And Other Anxieties)

Stage FrightYour palms are warm and damp. Beads of perspiration appear on your forehead. Your pulse quickens. You feel like fleeing for the restroom.

These are all symptoms of stage fright, a common social phobia. Whether known as nerves, butterflies, performance anxiety, fear of public speaking, or the technical term glossophobia, stage fright affects most people at some point in their lives. As Steven Pressfield reveals in his book The War of Art, even a seasoned actor like Henry Fonda was throwing up before each performance—at the age of seventy-five.

So now you’re thinking, “Great. Henry Fonda couldn’t control his nerves; what am I supposed to do?”

There are some specific techniques you can apply when you feel that nervousness before you speak. Communication pro Nick Morgan offers these five suggestions and you’ll find a few ideas in our book as well.

But what about the long-term? Is there anything you can do that will help you feel less nervous over time?

Yes—I believe there are some concrete steps you can take that will help you get past your fear of speaking, and probably some other anxieties as well. But let me share a story with you first.

Why I Didn’t Want to Go to Disney World

A few years ago, my wife and I made plans to take our three young children to Disney World during their spring break. We’d fly from Illinois to Florida, stay at a Disney hotel, and spend five days at the different Disney parks. A perfect family getaway, right?

Wrong.

Shortly after we left our home to drive the 45 minutes to the airport, I had to pull over and let my wife drive. My stomach was tied in knots, my breathing was rapid and shallow, and I was on the verge of passing out.

What was going on?

At the time, I wasn’t sure. Fear of flying, maybe? Looking back, I see a number of factors:

  • Apart from visiting our families in Indiana and Oklahoma, we didn’t travel much
  • I’d been in the same job, teaching at the university, for over ten years
  • We’d lived in the same house during that time as well
  • I was approaching my fortieth birthday

As I shared this experience with some older mentors, the term “mid-life crisis” arose. More than that, however, I think it came down to one thing:

My life was static.

For nearly a decade, little in my life had changed.

But when change showed up in the form of a seemingly harmless family vacation, my well-ordered world was turned upside down.

Don’t Let Fear Move In

I had a few more episodes like that over the next several months but I didn’t want my life to be defined by fear. If given the space, fear and anxiety will move in and take over. And I’ve got work to do, a family to love, change I want to make.

You probably do, too.

At their core, social phobias are about public embarrassment. We don’t want to appear stupid or awkward before others. And this is exactly why giving a speech or presentation can be so frightening: everyone is looking at you and you’re thinking, “What will they think of me if I screw up?” I’ve certainly felt that way before a presentation and most people have.

It’s helpful to realize, though, that people want you to do well. The audience, in most cases, is on your side. So relax.

In some cases, your anxiety may be significant enough that you need a professional’s help. Many of us, though, just need some direction and a push.

An Unconventional Regimen for Dealing with Your Public Speaking Fear

Are you ready to move past your fear? Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Take cold showers for a week
  2. Break something that has little value
  3. Talk to a stranger

Seriously?

Yes.

These are a few of the exercises that Julien Smith suggests in his book The Flinch. It’s free, short (you can read it in an hour) and available for the Kindle. You don’t need a Kindle to read it–you can read it on your computer, phone or tablet with one of these free apps.

The flinch is our response to change and pain, and it shows up in our fears and anxieties. We’re comfortable where we are and change is hard. That vacation to Disney World meant change for me, and it was hard. If you don’t give presentations often, they’re hard. Actually, even when you do give presentations regularly, they’re still hard. Remember Henry Fonda?

When you do the exercises in The Flinch, however, you train yourself to be uncomfortable. The exercises will teach you that being uncomfortable won’t kill you. They will help you build a resistance to the flinch as well as a catalog of memories from which you can draw when you feel fear. They will help you learn to recognize the flinch and then push past it.

Start doing the opposite of your habits. It builds up your tolerance to the flinch and its power. —Julien Smith

If you want to overcome your fear of public speaking in particular, I’d add these two exercises to your anti-flinch training:

  1. Practice – Many people never practice their speeches or presentations. Rehearsing, though, is one of the best ways to prepare. The more prepared you feel before the “real thing,” the less fear you’ll feel.
  2. Speak – Practicing will only get you so far. You’ve got to get in the game to get good. Does that make you uncomfortable? Good! That means you’re on the doorstep of change and about to get better. Teach a lesson at your church, speak at a business club meeting, talk about what you do at your kids’ school. These are all opportunities to get better.

No one else can say what you have to say. Get The Flinch, face your stage fright and tell us your story. The more you do it, the more the flinch loses its power and the more comfortable you’ll become.

Just so you know: I wouldn’t ask you to do something I hadn’t done already. I took the cold showers.

By the way–if you’ve read this far and you still think this is a dumb idea, you’re flinching.

Make better presentations with the Presentation Renovation eBook

5 ways to minimize distractions and gain more listeners

Distractions, just like life, are going to happen. But you can improve your delivery and remain connected with your audience by minimizing the distractions that may be in your presentations.

Here are 5 ways to get started.

  1. Eliminate unnecessary text – If your audience can read your entire presentation from your slide on the screen, you have made yourself unnecessary. It’s that simple. You hold all of the information and your slides are for emphasis. Make yourself necessary by putting the attention back on you.
  2. Clothes matter – Make sure that you can move in the clothes you are wearing for your talk. Clothing that needs constant adjustment won’t work. And men–remember that the day of your presentation isn’t the time to wear that overly bold tie. For the ladies–don’t put on those extra dangly or overly large hoop earrings. The focus should be on your face and not your accessories.
  3. Move on purpose – Your movements should be intentional and add emphasis to your presentation. You will gain more attention by standing still and directing your energy into your facial expression, voice, and gestures. A good time to move, a few steps to the left or right is during the transitions of your speaking points. This will help you keep your audiences’ attention and move them with you to your next idea.
  4. Project your voice – If people have to strain to hear you, they won’t for very long. Make sure the person in the back of the room is as engaged by your voice as the one in the front. You may need to lower the tone of your voice to help it travel farther.
  5. Acknowledge the distraction – Inevitably a loud air-conditioner will turn on at the moment you most need the attention of your audience or it could be a technical glitch that everyone notices. By drawing attention to the distraction with your words, you allow your audience to admit they were distracted and everyone can move forward together. Otherwise, they spend time wondering if you even heard it or how you could have possibly ignored it, taking their attention away from you and your message.

Paying attention to your presentation–in all its parts–will allow your audience to return the favor.

Make better presentations with the Presentation Renovation eBook

How to Earn Your Audience’s Attention in 30 Seconds Flat

It has been said that an audience decides in the first 30 seconds of a presentation whether or not to listen.

That doesn’t sound like very long but think back to the  last time you were part of an audience.

The speaker may have shuffled papers on the way to the front of the room with his face buried. Maybe he was still organizing his notes along the way. For some reason, he felt the need to look down while he was sharing his first thoughts. He looked unprepared, bored, and disinterested. You began to question his ability to even communicate on the subject and wondered what he could possibly know that you didn’t already.

How long would you give that speaker? It’s very likely that you wouldn’t listen much past his introduction, if you made it that far.

There are many  elements at work in those first few seconds, but remembering these three simple things will put you well on your way to earning the attention of your audience.

  1. Stand tall — We can tell if someone even wants to be in the room by the posture they use. How you hold yourself physically sends a loud and clear message to your audience without saying a word. Stand tall and hold your head high, even while walking to the front of a room. When an audience sees a confident speaker they see a credible speaker.
  2. Make eye contact — Are you introducing yourself, your topic, or taking the time to deliver a great attention-getter? It will fall flat if your eyes are not on your audience. Make eye contact with a small group of the audience for a sustained thought of your presentation. Then navigate the room, one small group at a time, one thought at a time. We trust and connect with someone who can look us in the eye.
  3. Use smile power — Don’t underestimate the power of a smile. Smiling people are generally taken to be more likable. Likability increases your credibility, as does being genuine. Forcing emotion won’t work. Use the natural expressions you would in a conversation.

You step confidently to the front of the room. Instead of looking at your notes, you know your first words and look directly at your audience, making sure to address the entire room. Your facial expression is welcoming, adding emphasis to your words and making it easier to understand your overall meaning. It is as if you are simply talking to the audience, holding a one-on-one conversation. You take the time to connect, and your audience responds by doing the same.

Chances are you’ll earn more than 30 seconds of your audience’s time.