A number of years ago, I was in a Board of Directors meeting when my boss unexpectedly called on me to report on the communications department. I had nothing prepared. Nevertheless, I stood and gave an update. After the meeting, my boss explained: “You always get nervous before presentations. I was confident you knew this information thoroughly, so I took a chance that you’d do better improvising. You wouldn’t have time to get nervous.” He was right.
I’m not recommending this approach for anyone, but it did teach me a good lesson, and I’m rarely nervous now before speeches or presentations. The lesson learned? Tip #1, below.
- Know your subject matter. Perhaps you’re already an expert, and that’s why you’re speaking. If you’re not, become an expert. This is a must for feeling and sounding confident.
- Know your audience, and prepare appropriately. If you’re speaking on IT, you will give a much different presentation to consumers who barely know how to use e-mail than you would to an audience of programmers.
- Write out your presentation. Even if it’s only a ten or fifteen minute speech, write out what you want to say beforehand. How many people have you heard speak where every sentence begins with “um” because they have to think about what to say while they’re up there in front of everyone.
- Practice, practice, practice. Some people memorize their speeches. Practice enough so that all you need do is glance down at your notes occasionally to stay on track. Memorize most of the speech, but leave enough room to improvise. This will make you look natural.
- Be confident. If you’ve followed all the steps above, you’ll come across knowledgeable, interesting, and relaxed.
- Enjoy yourself. Look at this as a positive, not a negative. The spotlight is on you, and this is your time to shine.