Approximate reading time: 4 minutes 45 seconds
Have you ever had a dream in which you were about to present or give a speech to a room full of people? Your hands were shaking and sweating and you were sure your voice wouldn’t come out when needed? Then you suddenly understood you were standing in front of all these people in your underwear. They were just staring at you, some were laughing. Your boss was sitting right in the middle of the first row and to your despair, you have noticed your worst high school enemy sitting right next to him with a triumphant smile? Have you ever had that dream?
I know I have and I imagine it being the worst nightmare of almost every occasional presenter. As much as I don’t believe there are people completely free from jitters, I also know that some cope better than others with stage anxiety. This is possibly linked to their personal talents or extensive practice but you can be sure that even people who have extensive experience in public speaking aren’t completely free from this fear of embarrassing themselves in front of a big audience. However, the good news is that this fear can go away or at least be relieved if you are aware of a few professional “secrets.”
Five professional secrets of great presenters (that I’ve personally had a chance to test):
1. You always get some credit from your audience
Your audience has no intention of hating you or laughing at you when they come to your presentation. You always have a credit from them at first. They want to like you and they will if you only let them. Smile. Look at people. Be open and kind. You don’t need to be an extrovert type to be able to do it. Don’t apologise for being there. Take your time. Behave as if you belonged to the place. Because you do.
2. Your audience doesn’t know your script
Many presenters are afraid of forgetting to say something and embarrass themselves. Maybe you are one of them. Maybe you can’t sleep the night before your presentation and think about all the possible mistakes you can make.
- What if you forget to greet the public?
- What if you don’t present yourself?
- What if you forget that joke you were planning to start with to ease the atmosphere?
Hold tight as I am going to give you a universal answer to all your ‘ifs’. My answer to all those questions is ‘nothing’. Nothing will happen or rather – nothing bad will happen as your audience simply won’t know. They don’t know what you have planned for them so they will not notice that there is something missing. Unless you decide to tell them. Which brings me to my next point.
3. Embrace your mistakes
Sometimes you really make a mistake. After all you are only a human being. Either you forget to say something important or realise that you provided wrong data to support one of your arguments. You realise that half way through your presentation and freeze. You feel the panic going up from your stomach to your throat and you keep thinking ‘Oh my god! Oh my god! Do they know? Has anybody noticed?’ In fact, there is no need to worry about it and certainly there is no need to panic. There is also no need to pretend nothing happened. Instead, embrace your mistake. Admit it, or even apologise, if necessary. Say ‘By the way, I realised I forgot to present myself so you may wonder who that guy talking to you about marine wildlife is. My name is XY and I am an expert in octopus love life’.
People appreciate honesty, they need to trust you if you want them to listen, understand and act. The easiest way to make people trust you is to be honest, including being honest about your mistakes. They will forgive you your mistakes but not if you pose as someone you are not.
Being authentic is your secret weapon.
Which brings me again to the next secret of professional presenters.
4. Say no to ‘Fake it till you make it’
You have probably heard this sentence many times and wonder. Is it possible to really fake it so well as to make people believe you are not nervous? Could you do that? The truth is not all people can and not all people should. It’s not easy and it’s not autentic and remember that being autentic is your secret weapon. Luckily, as with any other skill public speaking gets better when practiced so in this sense ‘fake it till you make it’ should be translated into ‘practice whenever possible’.
However, until you finally get there consider doing something exactly opposite than faking – admit you are nervous. Admit it first to yourself and then to your audience. If you don’t feel comfortable say something like ‘I am not very comfortable speaking in front of such a big audience so I hope you will give me some credit’. People appreciate honesty. Being authentic is your secret weapon. Am I repeating myself?
5. Mistakes are the most valuable lessons in your life
We live our lives trying to go from one success to another. It’s understandable. Who doesn’t like being successful? However, trying to be successful all the time often equals trying to avoid mistakes at all costs. That’s one of the reasons for our fear of public speaking. So if you fail (which by the way is often only a matter of perception), the first thing you do is trying to forget about it while what you should be doing is exactly the opposite. You should think about your mistakes and analyse what actually happened there and why. Only analysing your own mistakes will help you to understand the reasons behind them. Understanding the reasons will help you either to avoid those mistakes in the future or prepare yourself for the next time you are faced with a similar situation.
You can also prepare yourself for possible mistakes that you only imagine because they have never happened to you. Picture the worst-case scenario or scenarios and ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I do if this happens to me?
- What do I say?
- How do I react?
- Is there anything I can do to prevent it?
Sometimes thinking about a possible mistake in this analytical way makes you more familiar with the situation so you feel prepared for it.
So now that you know five “secrets” you always wanted to know about public speaking (but were afraid to ask), you also know what to do next time when you have a nightmare about standing in your underwear in front of a big audience. Instead of sweating and shaking, just speak up. Tell your audience ‘forgive me my informal outfit’ and smile.