Many people struggle with presentation anxieties. Unlike many of her students and fellow alumni, Linda Greve (MA ’05 and current PhD candidate) enjoys giving presentations. She has five tips that will help you reduce your presentation anxieties.
Linda wrote the book ‘Den Gode Præsentation’ (2010) and gives seminars to people in various occupations, on the different presentation genres when presenting for an audience, at job interviews,or when selling a product or pitching an idea.
Preparation is the key
It might seem self-evident, but you become less anxious by preparing well. This doesn’t mean making fifteen PowerPoint slides and then closing your computer. You’ll forget what you wanted to say or end up repeating information. Strive to practice your presentation six times. Then the presentation is fresh and you know what to do. It’ll also make you ready for comments and questions from the audience.
When you have a three hour speech, you obviously can’t practice six times. In this case, make sure that you know the start of your presentation very well. Knowing how to start will give you confidence about the continuation of the presentation. The audience will get the impression that everything is going to be ok. Besides that, don’t forget a firm outro. You might be relieved the presentation is over, but don’t transmit this feeling onto the audience. Avoid ending with ‘that is all’ or ‘I hope this was useful for you’. The audience will then leave with the feeling that it indeed wasn’t much. You did not waste their time; of course what you said was useful to them.
Preparing well doesn’t mean learning by heart. The audience doesn’t want to hear you reciting your manuscript. Written language and speech are not the same. Nobody expects a spoken presentation to be in perfect sentences. That would sound unnatural. Imagine only having twenty seconds instead of an hour, what should people pick up from your presentation? Elaborating from the essence makes it easier to improvise and take whatever is happening in the presentation room.
Work on your authentic posture
Get someone you trust and who’ll be honest with you, to witness your natural body language while telling an anecdote. What’s your facial expression, what do you do with your hands and legs, how does your voice sound, do you look people in the eye? When you know what you normally do, then you know how you should behave while presenting. The more authentic you’re able to be, the more comfortable the audience will feel with you.
Do the same with a presentation, or make a video recording of yourself. A video of yourself reveals a lot about your good and bad habits. If watching in real-time is too scary, then playing it in fast forward will do. That’ll reveal just as much about what your body does when you get anxious. For instance, if you walk back and forth like a caged animal, it will look foolish in fast-forward. You will realize you have something to work on. Or you might see that making yourself small and talk fast and softly will come across unnaturally. The audience will notice your anxiousness, which is uncomfortable to listen to.
Improvement is an act of will
No one can just run a marathon; you have to practice with dedication. The same goes for presenting. One step at a time. Keep on evaluating your presentations. Don’t just say the presentation went fine, but reflect on your performance. What went well and what didn’t? There is always something good to say and there is always something to work with. Improving yourself is an act of will. It’ll make you feel good to continuously see yourself improving.
One example is breathing superficially during presentations. This can be very tiresome. If you don’t inhale and exhale normally, you’re not getting enough oxygen. This makes you less present and sharp during a presentation. Breathing exercises can then be very helpful.
Another example: telling yourself that you have to speak more slowly and take more breaks than you normally would, is easier said than done. Your audience needs time to absorb what you say and make notes. It helps to make an agreement with yourself on how to slow yourself down when you feel the anxiety coming up. A trick is to bring a bottle of water to the presentation, and decide that you have to finish that bottle by the end of the presentation. You don’t want to gobble it in the last minute of your talk. Instead, have a sip of the water once in a while. This gives the audience a break, and you don’t feel uncomfortable because you are doing something.
Trick your body into confidence
A study on body language by Amy Cuddy shows that your hormone level can be affected, by simply posing in different ways. Power posing by making your body as large as possible, will increase your testosterone level and decrease your cortisol level. Testosterone is the hormone of dominance and a higher level will make you feel more confident. Cortisol is the stress hormone that influences your nervousness. People have the tendency to make their body smaller and round their shoulders when they’re anxious. This will make your cortisol level go up and testosterone levels go down.
Instead of tightening your shoulders while going through your notes last minute, power pose for two minutes prior to you presentation. Take a posture of confidence; plant your hands on a table and lean forward, claps your hands behind your head and lean back or stand with your feet widely while stretching your arms in a V-shape or planting them on your hips. Open your chest up, instead of locking your body up. Power posing will change your hormone level and make you feel more confident and less anxious. You trick your body and brain in believing everything’s going to be fine.
Note that you should not power pose during the presentation or meeting itself. That will send out signals of arrogance.
Find the needs of Winnie the Pooh
This trick is most applicable when it comes to selling a product or having a job interview. It’s very comfortable to think that everyone is Winnie the Pooh. When Christopher Robin asks what kind of story he should tell, Pooh Bear always want to hear a story about himself. We basically all like stories about ourselves. Have someone talk about themselves or the company for a little bit. This will reveal their needs quite easily, and you can anticipate on this. Instead of stressing over how to make a good impression, think about what the person in front of you wants. Show that you’re the right candidate for the job or how your product would be of great use to them. Focusing on fulfilling someone’s needs, gives the presentation a purpose. It’ll make you feel less anxious if you know what people except from you.
In addition, having someone talk about themselves or the company also reveals the preferred vocabulary. Using the right words is important in a conversation. For example, when you continuously talk about serving ‘customers’, but the person in front of you talks about serving ‘clients’, this might be conflicting in the communication towards each other.
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