Your boss has assigned you to give a big presentation. In front of lots of people. And you hate public speaking. It makes you nervous just thinking about it. But what can you do to get over your presentation anxiety?
Can I propose two words to help you? The first is surrender. That might seem like an odd choice when we are talking about battling our fear. But stick with me. I’ll explain. The second word is prepare. That one makes more sense, right? With that one, we can see the clear link to victory. So let’s explore these two words to find out how they can help us battle our fear.
When I suggest “surrender” as the first word you need to move past your fear of public speaking, I’m not suggesting you give up. Instead, I want us to focus on this meaning of surrender: ceasing resistance. What I’ve seen in my years of teaching and coaching speakers is a lot of wasted energy on the front end.
Say you are afraid of public speaking and you’ve just be assigned a presentation. Your body might go into a mild fight or flight response. Dr. Neil Neimark says, “By its very nature, the fight or flight system bypasses our rational mind.” So we begin to think of all the ways the presentation can go wrong, how much we don’t want to do it, or how we can get out of the uncomfortable situation. While this is a natural response, it’s not a particularly helpful one in this case.
But what if, instead, we just ceased resistance? What if we approached the situation rationally? It might sound something like this. “I’ve been assigned a presentation. Do I want to give the presentation? No. Is it something I’m going to have to do if I want to keep my job? Probably so. So it’s settled, then. I’m giving a presentation.”
Surrendering in this way allows you to skip past the kicking and screaming. It reduces both the time and energy you spend thinking about how you hate public speaking. And it pushes you to get to work because you’ve resolved to give the presentation. If this initial stage is embraced quickly, it allows you to accelerate toward what really matters, preparation.
Once you have surrendered, you can turn your entire focus toward preparing for your presentation. Here’s the 4-stage preparation process I like to follow.
1. Research and gather information. While it might be tempting to start writing the presentation right away, give yourself time to do some background reading. Gather current research and get curious about what others have to say about your topic.
2. Develop your content. Once you’ve taken some time to research and read, start preparing your content. This means writing your presentation, but it also means developing your visual slides and graphics. Aim to develop all of your content at this stage. And make sure there is variety in your content because it is so important for public speaking.
3. Get feedback and revise. Before you start rehearsing, you should get honest feedback from someone. It always helps to see the presentation through someone else’s eyes. Chances are, you’ve become pretty attached to it at this point. So getting an outside opinion can help you see things that need to be changed. Researcher Tessa V. West says that although feedback can be uncomfortable, presenters need to “to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, for the sake of personal and organizational growth.”
4. Practice, practice, practice. Once you have your final version of your presentation squared away, rehearse. And do it standing up and with your visuals. Because nonverbal delivery and the integration of presentation media make a difference. Run through the presentation the exact way you plan to during the performance. Then do it again. And again. And again.
Thepracticeco.com gives this helpful reminder: “You do not have to white-knuckle your way through this. All the white-knuckling will do is make you stiff and sore and afraid.” Once you know a public speaking battle is in front of you, you can surrender and prepare. The battle is coming. Resistance won’t help. But preparation will.
Once you’ve surrendered, we are here to help you prepare for your presentation. Find out how we can help.
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