You’re scheduled for a presentation. Maybe presenting to a few decision-makers, perhaps speaking to a larger audience. Either way, positive actions beforehand can make you a stronger presenter. Here are five suggestions:
1. Live with your audience
Once you commit to a presentation, commit to the audience. Learn all you can about attendees. Even if presenting to internal clients you’ve known for years, ask yourself “why should they care?” and shape content to communicate with them, not at them.
The more familiar you become with audience members— and the deeper you look at the idea or topic through their eyes—the greater confidence and effectiveness you’ll have on presentation day.
2. Practice and rehearse
Practicing for presentations typically means mentally skimming through content, maybe while flipping through support slides. That’s great as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. Also, rehearse. Walk through your presentation exactly as you plan to deliver it—speaking aloud, using support visuals and moving the way you intend to do in front of your audience. (And maybe rehearse at least once in front of a family member or co-worker for feedback.)
3. Preview the room
Know the space. If the presentation will happen in your facility, find a time when the room is vacant and go there alone. Walk around. Look around. Maybe even rehearse in the room. See and feel yourself making the presentation.
If the presentation will take place in a different city or state, ask the coordinator to email a few digital snapshots of the room. Familiarizing yourself with the space in advance allows your mind to have one less thing to deal with on presentation day—and builds confidence as you mentally place yourself in the room during rehearsals.
4. Have in-case-of-emergency stories
Any professional speaker—myself included—has battle scars from sudden disruptions or technology breakdowns during presentations. These interruptions stop momentum and cause awkward time-lapses while problems are being fixed. To be ready for these possible issues, come armed with one or two succinct human-interest stories you could tell to fill the time gap. Another option is having a couple of questions related to your topic that you could ask audience members during any delays.
5. Talk to yourself.
Research at the University of Toronto found self-affirmations help reduce the stress of performing in high-pressure situations. Experiment with a bit of self-talk in the days and hours before your presentation.
Common affirmations include “I will be a powerful presenter” or “I will be a fearless speaker.” An affirmation I often suggest to people I’m coaching is “I’m here to help.” By shifting focus from yourself to the audience, that affirmation reduces self-consciousness and nervousness.