Public Speaking Jitters

Dear, Anita,

I’ve been asked by my manager to present a report at next month’s departmental meeting. It’s not a lot of people, but I’m still anxious. I’ve got to create a PowerPoint, and I haven’t had much experience speaking in front of a group.
Any advice for me?

Nervous Woman Holding MicrophoneDear, Nervous Kelly,

Your manager has given you a great opportunity to get your oratory feet wet in front of your “peeps.” Your coworkers are friendly faces, and they are going to be rooting for you. Knowing that should alleviate half your fears.

The second key is preparation. I’m sure your manager has given you some guidance on talking points he’d like you to highlight from the report. Avoid text-heavy slides (the detailed information is in the report they’ll receive, after all). To keep your audience engaged, don’t simply read your PowerPoint slides verbatim. Use them as cues to explain, discuss, or go into more detail. Write your script in the Notes section of PowerPoint, and use the Presenter mode.

Once you’ve finalized your PowerPoint and your boss has approved, rehearse your script. Out loud. Close your office door so you won’t have to give your coworkers a spoiler alert. Or bring your laptop home and present to your dog. You may even want to do a dry run in the meeting room, so you won’t have any technical snafus that will sabotage your concentration on the big day.

Public_Speaking_Jitters_0315To calm your nerves, start out with a smile. Try for a conversational delivery (steer clear of a monotone drone) in a voice loud enough for all in the room to hear. Some people rush when they are nervous, so make a point to speak slowly and clearly, but with inflection. Other novice speechmakers tend to hold their breath. Back in the days of 3×5 cards, I used to write “Breathe!” on the bottom of each card. Remember to take a deep breath during each slide transition. Be sure to look up from your notes and make eye contact with your audience (your best buddies will be sure to smile their encouragement). If you lose your train of thought, just pause and regroup. Chances are, no one will even notice the hesitation.

If this is something you may need to do on a regular basis for your position (and in your career down the road) check out Toastmasters International, an organization that helps members improve their communication skills. You can join one of the 14,000+ clubs and practice giving speeches in a supportive environment.

Readers: What’s your best advice for overcoming pre-speech jitters?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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A reader writes:

Hello Anita,

I need your advice on something. Ever since I can remember I have been terrified of public speaking. Just the thought of it gets my stomach all stirred up. I have goals and aspirations to be an executive someday but know that I need to overcome my fears to get there. What can I do to make speaking in public less difficult?

Woman RunningDear, Stage Frightened,

Public speaking ranks very high up on the list of people’s biggest fears. According to Live Science’s article “What Really Scares People: Top 10 Phobias,” public speaking and social phobia ranked #4 behind scary spaces, spiders, and snakes.

Being in front of a crowd with all eyes on you can be intimidating and anxiety ridden. I myself have had my fair share of being stage shy. The thought of speaking to a group made me feel like running for my life. I have always been jealous of those lucky individuals that look carefree, unscathed, and darn-right comfortable when they are giving speeches and presentations. Not fair, right? Well, life is not fair and when life gives us lemons, what do we do? Make lemonade.

Before you start even thinking about presenting a topic in public, you have to figure out the key elements. My friend, Bonnie Cox at Power Training Institute, has a great amount of experience in public speaking and has offered her professional advice to us! How lucky are we? Here are Bonnie’s proven tips to become at ease with your presentation skills and make you a pro in no time at all.

  • Try to relax. Your audience is there to see you deliver a great presentation. They are not there to see you fail. Luckily for them, you won’t!
  • Know your topic cold. Practice it until you are comfortable.
  • Remember that everyone has stage fright. Let it work for you, not against you. It can be very energizing!
  • Focus on what your audience wants or needs to hear. It’s not about you.
  • Stay humble. If you are more focused on what you can give to your audience, you’ll be less focused on yourself.
  • Do not draw attention to your hiccups or your nerves. You are probably the only one who notices them.
  • Join Toastmaster or National Speakers Association to hone your skills and perfect your ability to connect with your audience.
  • Know the room that you will be presenting in.
  • Arrive to your presentation at least 15 minutes early.Microphones

And from Anita’s bag of tips and tricks, a final piece of advice to leave you with… As scary as it may sound, the only way you are going to be more comfortable with your public-speaking self to is practice, practice, and practice some more. The more times you present, the less anxious you will be and the better you will become. Baby steps are usually the best way to go about it. It may sound silly, but try practicing your speech out loud in front of the mirror. Once you have nailed it, enlist your friends and family to test your skills out on. It should be a
no-judgment environment, one you are completely comfortable with. Then move on to bigger stages and audiences. You will be a master in no time.

Toastmasters has come out with a great video called Five Basic Public Speaking Tips. Check it out here:

Readers, what do you do before and during a presentation that makes you the star of the show?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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