Too many people hate presenting. A few weeks ago, I wrote about some strategies to combat nervousness when presenting to a larger group of people. This post turned out to be extremely popular. However, I just realized that I had omitted an important point: Why would I want to present in the first place? Dealing with nervousness is a nerve-racking business after all. It would be easy to just avoid this all together. In my current role I have had the unique opportunity to present over 100 times per year and have learned that we should jump on the opportunity to present to smaller or larger groups. I honestly have to say that I love presenting. And I think you should love it, too. Here is why.
8 reasons YOU should present
Ability to share your ideas: Think about it – it is damn hard to get people’s attention these days. There is too much information floating around and there is also a lot of distraction. If you have a great idea, you really need to fight to the attention of the right people. Presenting, however, allows you to get the undivided attention of a lot of people at the same time. I consider this to be a serious luxury. It is a rare opportunity.
Ability to stand-out:It is quite difficult to stand-out these days. Presenting more than anything else provides you with the opportunity to show your capabilities and to toot your own horn. An engaging and insightful presentation is the ideal platform to shine and to create a lasting impact. Don’t waste it. It’s no surprise that many experts consider presentation skills a key career skill.
Ability to influence: It’s not only about standing out but also about influencing lives and decisions. Delivering a great presentation allows you to influence more than just one person. Once again – you should consider this as a luxury.
Opportunity to learn: One of the best ways to learn is to teach. Creating a great presentation requires you to know your materials insight out. You will have to prepare carefully. And that is an excellent opportunity to acquire new knowledge. I have had a lot of situations where a speaking engagement turned out to be a tremendous learning experience.
Ability to test: It’s great to have ideas. But do they actually work? Presenting is an amazing platform to test your ideas and to see if your positioning works. Why is that? Your audience will provide you with immediate and honest feedback. Just look at their faces. Are they engaged or bored? If they are bored, you need to work on your pitch and your idea.
Improved networking: Whenever I present at conferences and meetings, I tend to meet a bunch of great new people. As the presenter you enjoy more exposure as I mentioned earlier. If people like your content they will connect with you. And the great thing is that you don’t have to do the work. People come to you.
Intellectual challenge: Listen up – presenting is an awesome intellectual challenge. To deliver a great speech you need to be 100% focused. Staying focused for more than 30 minutes is not easy. After delivering a 60 minute presentation, I am often drained. But that’s a great feeling!
Fun: Last but not least, presenting can be extremely rewarding and fun. A great job done presenting will give you many reasons to celebrate and smile.
8 reasons to love presenting
Those are my 8 reasons why you should love presenting. Of course, non of this is easy and it requires preparation and practice. That’s the way life is. What do you like about presenting?
It was a regular workday for Tom. Things were going well for him and his career. Shortly after 5pm his boss called to ask him for a simple favor: to deliver one of their standard corporate presentations in front of 30 sales and marketing people from a different business unit the next day at 1pm. Most people dread presenting and so did Tom. He cancelled his get-together for the evening and didn’t go to bed until after midnight. He tossed and turned in anticipation of the next day. At 4am he finally gave up, showered and continued with his preparation. His public speaking nervousness continued to rise throughout the morning. His girl-friend tried to re-assure him. He knew the subject extremely well, after all. Shortly after 1pm, disaster struck. He had just started the presentation when he had a complete black-out. 29 people stared at him with anticipation. He couldn’t find his words, the world started spinning around him and he passed out.
The stage fright phenomenon
What happened to Tom isn’t unusual. It happens all the time. Most people hate presenting in front of a group of any size. But it doesn’t have to end in disaster. And it shouldn’t! Presentation skills are extremely important today. We are required to present more often that we think: team meetings, town halls, conferences… There are a lot of opportunities to shine but also to mess things up.
It is a well-known secret that even famous actors, performers and singers deal with the phenomenon of stage fright. There is no way around it. But it doesn’t have to be a horror experience. Instead, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences professional live offers.
“The fact is, people do judge by appearances. If you have great ideas but present them poorly, many people will fail to see their worth. You’ll be beaten by somebody whose ideas are less worthy than yours, but who presented them superlatively.”, Simon Reynolds.
Advice for public speaking nervousness
For the past four years, I have frequently presented to larger audiences of up to a few thousand people. Those occasions have taught me a lot. But let me tell you: regardless of how often I do this – I am usually nervous. Here are a few things that have helped me stay calm and relaxed. Many websites and books will tell you about breathing techniques and such. That sort of stuff puts a band-aid on a deep cut. I doesn’t help you heal.
Nervousness = Ability to perform: Being nervous helps us perform extremely well. The reason is that our brains release adrenaline which in turn allows us to focus and to perform. Just think back to a time when you achieved something amazing (maybe a test, race, tournament). Chances are you were super nervous but suddenly your adrenaline kicked in. So the first thing to do is to just accept the fact that you will feel those butterflies in your stomach. Knowing that this is part of deal and that this helps me has made a world of difference.
Prepare: Preparation is key. For one thing, you should know your content well. If you do not know what you are talking about, you have every right to be nervous and maybe you shouldn’t even present to begin with. But preparation also requires you to have the equipment ready and primed. I always make sure to charge my laptop and iPad before any presentation. Also, I try to show up at a location early enough to test everything. It sounds so simple, but I have seen many people who get frazzled by beeping laptops, connectivity issues and such. So, do yourself a favor and prepare well.
Content: Invest time in developing your content. Simply downloading any cool presentation from the corporate knowledge center will not help. Every audience is different. If you invest time in understanding their needs and tailoring the content will help you tremendously. I have had several occasions where I developed presentations that I was really excited to deliver. The content was that cool. If you are happy and familiar with the content, you will be in a much better place.
Mingle: We are usually most comfortable with friends and family. Crowds of people that we do not know are scary on the other hand. I therefore try to mingle with people before a presentation. It allows me to get to know them, learn about their expectations and to also get some distraction.
Humor: Humor is the best medicine. I personally love to joke around before speaking engagements. It helps me clear my mind and it helps with getting into a positive attitude. And that attitude is extremely important.
Hidden agenda: Part of the reason we experience public speaking nervousness is the fear of making mistakes. But guess what – as the presenter, we have a serious competitive advantage: Nobody besides you knows what is supposed to happen. Let’s assume that you were planning on saying X before saying Y, but you end up starting with Y and then finishing with X. The audience won’t notice and they won’t care. You are the only one who knows! And even if you make a mistake, so what? Stuff happens and nobody expects you to be perfect. So, use that knowledge to your advantage: Only you know what is supposed to happen. That insight alone can really calm you down.
Public speaking nervousness
Next time you have to present and you experience public speaking nervousness, try one of these tips. But keep in mind – everybody is different. What works for me doesn’t necessarily have to work for you. You will have to try different things and see what works. The biggest difference for me was to find out about tips #1 and 5.
The experts at Decker Communications just released their annual list of the top ten best and worst communicators. I always look forward to this annual article. Not only is it interesting but it is also entertaining and sometimes a bit sad. I highly recommend spending a few minutes going through their blog post. There is a lot to be learned from the best (and the worst…).
Communication skills are more important today than ever before. There is so much noise around us. Being heard amongst all the information frenzy requires us to continuously work on our skills. In his amazing book You’ve got to be believed to be heard, Bert Decker sums that up nicely:
“The message for all of us is clear: Whatever our life goals, our career goals, or our dreams of a better world, the key to success lies in our ability to communicate. No matter how uncomfortable or ill-equipped we feel as communicators, we dare not back away from the challenge of becoming effective speakers.”
Over the past few years, I have attended more conferences than I can remember. Unfortunately, there are always a few people who deliver extremely poor presentations. Some of them simply do not care. Others are extremely nervous. And some of them simply have nothing to say. But the result is always the same: a lot of wasted time (think about the audience loosing 45 minutes of their lives) and the speaker’s reputation is often damaged (would you purchase expensive software or services from the arrogant person who could not articulate a clear message?).
Presentation coach Jerry Weissman states:
“If any one presentation fails, there may be no tomorrow. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
NEW YEAR, NEW GOALS
2011 is almost over. Towards year-end, most of us sit down to make goals for the next year. Working on communication skills is always on my personal list. So, what can you do? Here are a few ideas: