Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

This is for those who are seriously affected by the symptoms of public speaking, presentations or simply speaking up at a meeting.  Sweaty brow? Heart thumping in your throat? Thoughts like I don't belong here ?  It can be painful and debilitating. Worse, the audience can see and hear that your main message is not the topic, it's I don't want to be here speaking to you. You get sympathy, but no credibility. 

Is that you? Stay with me.

You can't cancel fear directly. What you can do is overwhelm it with something way more powerful and productive.  But first a quick question; do you want the audience to get the message in your topic?  You do?  You really do? Good, because there lies the solution:

Make it obvious to the audience that you want them to get the message in your topic.

Obvious? How?

Firm up your voice. Be more emphatic, and - above all - look around at people more urgently. You might raise your eyebrows a little. You might give little nods here and there. Your expression makes it obvious that your top priority right now is your message and them. It's not about you.  Yes, it's an act at first - an act that quickly becomes real.

But why does that work for nervousness? 

Because you are redirecting your energy.  Instead of feeding your fear, you're now feeding the audience. In my workshops, trainees who put that tip into practice for just two minutes say with some surprise, That was good, I felt in control. Some, having tasted that result, never look back. They just go on getting better, and their now undernourished fear fades away.

Could that be you?

Interested in a workshop on presentation skills for your team?

We all have an inner mouse. It squeaks fearfully when we have to speak to an audience. Yes, even confident speakers hear a faint squeak, but they don't waste mental energy on it.

Here's the simplest, most practical advice to come out of my years of helping speakers speak. When you're about to go in front of the audience:

Starve the mouse, feed the audience!

Picture the most terrified presenter you've ever seen. Pure cartoon-like mouse: petrified, wide-eyed, hands clasped beseechingly in front of us. Its innermost thought patterns run like this: you'll judge me, you'll see I'm no good, please like me. As an audience we can be sympathetic, we can choose to overlook the neediness, but we can't award credibility to speakers who focus more on themselves than on us. Deep down, we all know this. That's why self-consciousness is such a credibility downer. Also, each time you return to your fearful thoughts, you slip a bit more cheese to your mouse. Nor does it work to tell yourself not to have fearful thoughts; trying to do that is still centred on yourself and your mouse of fear just gets bigger and squeakier.  

Instead, switch your focus from inward to outward - specifically, to the needs of the audience. Here's how:

With your eyes, face and body, actively show every person in the audience that you want them to get your message. Seek individuals out for a whole second of direct eye contact, give some of them a little nod as you make eye contact, and emphasize your points with raised eyebrows and gestures with hands.

With that switch of focus, the rodent will go quiet and slip away into the shadows.

What? You think I'm trying to turn you into a show pony? No way. A bit of extra animation will not be seen as show pony antics, as long as you are genuinely more focused on audience needs than on your mouse. An audience knows when you set out to put them first. Then, they'll ignore your little mistakes, they'll listen to your message, they'll see you as credible.

And - come closer, I'm just going to whisper this - they might even like you.


Interested in a presentation skills workshop for your team?


Interested in training in presentation skills?

We can help your presenters engage their audiences – whether they are speaking at major conferences, presenting to the community or colleagues, or speaking up at a meeting.

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