No matter how long you’ve been doing it, giving a presentation can be nerve wracking for the best of us. Although there are some that can naturally speak with comfort and an above average ability to improvise on the spot, most of us are not afforded such gifts.
So what are the best ways to manage your nerves so you can confidently deliver during the big presentation? For me, without abiding by a few rules, I’m left with clouded thoughts that compromises my ability to deliver and leaves me a nervous wreck. Here are a few quick tricks that help me to keep things in check and deliver when it counts.
Preparation, preparation, preparation
The chances of you fumbling a presentation are dramatically less if you know the material inside and out. My preparation always begins with knowing my talking points for each bullet point, and never relying on the words on a slide to carry my presentation. If I’m relying too heavily on reading the slides, my concentration isn’t on the people in the room and I’m less able to pickup on their non-verbal cues. Knowing your material so well you can deliver it and maintain eye contact with your audience gives you the ability to steer conversation and/or questions to a territory that will benefit you. For me, this is extensive practice – in the mirror, in my apartment – so that I’m confidently articulating the presentation material when the time comes. And finally, preparation should include the questions you foresee from your material. Most notably, prepare for the hardest ones. There’s nothing worse than being caught flat-footed on a question – it can derail everything. Prepare for the worst and you’ll thank yourself in the end.
Know your audience
How I present to a group that is more formal is a far cry from a more casual presentation. Being too laid back to a formal group, or too uptight and proper for a casual group, can doom you from the start. Pitching to an investment firm? Show up in a suit and tie, and limit the funny stuff in your slides so it’s more of a professional approach. Pitching to a millennial-aged start-up? Mayyybe a blazer – go more fashion-forward casual – and keep the material light and conversational. And no matter what, do some due diligence on attendees in the room. You never know how much time there will be for small talk before or after the presentation, so know a few things about them to keep things moving and to demonstrate your preparation. This can often be overlooked, but is a crucial element to impressing your audience.
Focus on what you can control
Dr. Karen MacNeill often discusses mindset training, developing a ‘growth mindset’. For me when I present, it’s important that I focus on what I can control, and that means blocking out what I can’t. It does me no benefit to dwell on the importance of the meeting, or pondering ‘If I present very well, this could happen!’. Focusing on these variables out of your control will only hinder your performance. Do you think a batter that’s up in the bottom of the 9th with two strikes is thinking “if I strike out we will lose!”? Or are they simply concentrating on the at-bat like it’s any other, which blocks out the pressure of the situation? The moment is only as important as you make it you to be, so treating it like any other normal presentation will make sure you’re delivering at your most natural disposition.
Those are the general rules I follow when preparing for a presentation. Have something that works for you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!