If you seize up with fear at the thought of giving a presentation to a group of people, you have plenty of company. And if you’re shy or otherwise not a “natural public speaker,” the prospect of having to command a room might feel especially daunting. But many before you have conquered those fears and even gone on to become engaging speakers, and you can too. Here are eight tips to help you do it.
1. First and foremost: Practice, practice, practice. When you see smooth, well-timed, engaged presentations, it’s almost always because the presenter has practiced and rehearsed over and over. Practicing out loud, repeatedly, is key; the more times you practice, the better you’ll know the material and the more accustomed you’ll be to the rhythm and flow of the presentation overall. There’s no such thing as preparing too much in this context, only preparing too little.
2. Pay special attention to the start and end. You probably know the substance of what you want to talk about pretty well – the middle – but figuring out how to start and end can be trickier. So while you should practice the whole thing, be particularly sure that you have the start and end down cold in your sleep.
3. Video-record your presentation and study it. This might be excruciating the first time you do it, but it will help you spot verbal and non-verbal tics that could be detracting from your effectiveness or things you need to correct to appear more polished. Alternately, the next best thing is to ask a trusted friend or colleague to give you candid feedback – but nothing beats seeing yourself in video for spotting where you can tweak your presentation.
4. Still not comfortable? Fake it. Think of a presenter who you admire – someone who seems confident and in command of the room – and emulate their approach. (Take a look at Amy Cuddy’s fantastic TED talk, “How Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” for more on why this works and how to do it.)
5. Pretend you’re talking to one person. You’re probably a lot more comfortable with one-on-one conversations, so pretend you’re having one! Find an interested face in the audience, and talk directly to that person. Then, after a while, switch to another. You’ll find that you’re more engaged and probably more at ease – and will probably give a better talk. Relatedly…
6. Find ways to interact with your audience. Presentations are extra nerve-wracking if you let them feel like a monologue rather than a conversation. So find ways to build in audience interaction, like asking for a show of hands on a particular point or having people engage in a short activity. You’ll get better engagement from your audience, and you’ll feel better seeing that people are listening and responding.
7. Remember that you’re the most knowledgeable person in the room on what you’re presenting about – or at least people think you are. You were asked to present for a reason, and simply being the one who’s at the front of the room talking gives you some automatic authority in your audience’s eyes.
8. Don’t sacrifice authenticity in the pursuit of polish. The most interesting speakers aren’t necessary perfectly polished. Plenty of them are eccentric, or goofy, or even nerdy. What they have in common is passion about their subject and an ability to convey information. So don’t strive to be a generically polished speaker; it’s okay to show some personality (especially if your personality is one that’s geeking out about your topic!).