When I deliver Presentation Skills training courses and ask delegates what they would like to gain from the course, the most common response is: ‘to control my nerves better and to feel more confident.’ Perhaps you would say the same? You will probably agree that the more there is riding on the success of your presentation, (e.g. pitching for a contract; presenting to a job interview panel), the more your fears tend to grow. In this post I will discuss how anxiety arises and also offer some assurances.
Why are we so scared of speaking in public?
Did you know that public speaking is ranked amongst our Top Ten Fears? It’s up there along with spiders, flying and even death! I’ve known people to pass up on a great career opportunity, simply because they couldn’t face the prospect of giving a presentation.
Some years ago when lecturing on a management course I had a student who was about to drop out because the final assessment involved giving a 20 minute presentation. He’d worked hard for 3 years and achieved excellent grades up until that point. He wasn’t just nervous, he was downright petrified. I was able to help with a mixture of coaching and cajoling and I’m pleased to say he did make it over the final hurdle.
There’s no doubt about it, standing up to speak in a formal setting to a group of people feels very different from chatting with a few friends or colleagues. Our fears may stem from various factors, but the most significant one is the fear of making a fool of ourselves in front of other people. What if I stand up and the words won’t come out? What if I dry up half way through? What if I go bright red or get those blotchy patches on my neck? And so it goes on.
When we are nervous our bodies switch on their ‘fight or flight’ mechanism and pump out extra adrenalin. That is what’s going on when you start to experience a number of unhelpful things such as: sweaty palms; the urge to go to the loo; trembling hands or legs; dry mouth; ‘butterflies’ in your stomach etc.
It’s not all bad news though. That adrenalin rush can help you make an excellent presentation – so long as you manage to channel it correctly. You can learn to use your nervous energy to inject enthusiasm and vitality into your presentation. Without that energy, there’s a risk you will be too laid back and your presentation will lack impact – or what I sometimes call the ‘oomph factor’. No audience wants to be subjected to a bland, boring presentation.
Here are three assurances to keep in mind:
- It’s entirely natural to feel nervous about public speaking or giving a presentation. Even professional presenters such as newsreaders, actors and politicians will admit to feeling nervous or suffering from stage fright before they have to perform.
- You can learn strategies and techniques to overcome the negative effects of nerves. That’s what professional presenters have done. They didn’t start out as confident, polished speakers – they had to learn.
- It’s worth bearing in mind that most audiences will be on your side. They don’t want to see you fail and they will be sympathetic if your nerves show.
In conclusion, you’re by no means alone if you feel like running a mile when asked to make a presentation. Through training and practice you can develop your skills and increase your confidence in delivering presentations. Nerves need not be a barrier to your success.
In my next post I will outline some practical strategies for dealing with presentation anxiety.
Your questions and comments are very welcome.
Please contact me if you would like to find out more about training courses or one to one coaching on Presentation Skills.
Click here to see a sample Presentation Skills course programme.