Unless you’re a seasoned public speaker, speaking to a group - whether it's giving a presentation at work or pitching to a client - can be a nerve-wracking experience, resulting in a weak, wavering voice, shaking hands of a general flustered appearance. To combat these tell-tale signs, we spoke to various experts in public speaking to get their top tips for giving calm, confident presentations that will help your career and impress your boss.
First and foremost - remember to breathe! Take a couple of slow, deep breathes just before your presentation to help focus your mind and steady yourself. Zena Martin, a speaker and marketing communications consultant, recommends trying to remember that, for the most part, you’ll know more about your subject matter than your audience. Martin also suggests starting a conversation in the room before your presentation, which can help distract you away from your nervousness.
If you’re afraid that the dreaded shaky hands will give your nerves away, Mindy Gibbins-Klein, an international speaker and authour, advises it's not necessarily a good idea to try to hide your hands as people will become aware that you are hiding something. Avoid holding papers or notes, as that could actually exaggerates any shakiness, and instead use your hands creatively - perhaps by holding a presentation remote - as well as making gestures with your hands or arms, which will help illustrate the points you make.
If you find that you tend to lose your voice or get a dry mouth when you’re nervous, Zelda says to keep a glass of water near by, but not close enough to accidentally spill, during your presentation.
A smile also goes a long way so, even if you don't feel it, try to appear cheerful and confident, and actively try your best to come across as open and as approachable as possible.
Once all eyes are on you and the presentation begins, Mindy Gibbins-Klein recommends projecting your voice and speaking more loudly than usual, and to also speak slower than normal to. It may feel unnatural, but it will make your presentation easier to understand in addition to calming you down. Plus, nothing gives away nerves like a quick, high-pitched voice.
If you're relying on visuals such as a Powerpoint presentation, Gibbins-Klein also recommends ensuring you know the content of your slides thoroughly. Rehearsing and knowing your presentation material inside out not only shows you’re well prepared, but also that you really know your stuff, and will make your session appear seamless. Staring frantically at the projection screen desperately trying to figure out what’s next will distract your audience away from the point of your talk, and more than likely shake your confidence.
If the technical logistics of your presentation are causing you extra anxiety, Zelda Martin suggests that you find out what the AV equipment and seating arrangement will be like in the room before hand, in addition to investing in a USB presentation remote, just in case the office or venue you’re presenting at don’t have one for you, or if it’s not working properly.
Having a well rehearsed presentation is key, however, all of your slides and witty anecdotes can become overshadowed if you're caught off guard by a tricky question from a client or colleague that leaves you tounge-tied. Mindy Gibbins-Klein says that you should only ever be speaking on topics or presenting ideas that you’re very knowledgeable about, and that people will not necessarily be trying to “catch you out” but rather trying to learn more about the information you presented. Zelda Martin has the handy tip of writing down a one-word reminder for each question you’ve been asked as people ask them, so that if you lose your train of thought, you can glance at it and quickly get back on track.
Got any handy presentations techniques that you swear by? Let us know your best tips in the comments below.
Photo credit: Rex Features