by Paul Bindig, 28th August 2019
On stage (far right) with my band mates at a packed Thebarton Theatre in July this year. Look at all those people - yikes! Image courtesy Ralph Meznar Photography.
You have an important presentation to make. Maybe it's a budget proposal, a conference session, a board presentation, or even a few words at a team meeting. There is no doubting you possess the expertise, competence and qualifications to deliver this information - you're indisputably the right person for the task.
There's only one problem: You're terrified of the presentation itself.
You might be presenting to 1 or 1000 people, but the symptoms of your anxiety are the same. Just thinking about what you'll have to do causes an elevated heart rate, sweating, tight throat, trembling hands and a rising feeling of panic. What's worse is you know that when you get "on stage" your symptoms will become crippling. And the consequences of failure? Let's not go there...
That's the bad news. The good news is that performance anxiety is:
a) far more common than you think,
b) completely controllable, and
c) able to be used as an asset to actually IMPROVE your presentation.
I too am a sufferer of the affliction more commonly known as "stage fright". After over 25 years of delivering corporate presentations and playing live music to paying audiences, I thought I'd share my top tips to not only beat your fears, but start getting them to work for you, rather than against you.
- Accept Your Anxiety
That's right, your stage fright is perfectly normal and natural! It is a physiological response to the perceived danger you are placing yourself in. In the business world that danger is very rarely physical, but rather the modern danger of failure, ridicule, embarrassment and their associated consequences. Thankfully, there are specific mental and physical techniques you can apply to greatly minimise the detrimental impact of your mind and body's reaction to your presentation.
But it all starts with understanding and accepting that your anxiety WILL surface, you WILL feel its effects, and you WILL beat it.
- It's Not All About You
A misplaced need to be brilliant often brings about debilitating anxiety attacks. If you focus the centre of your presentation on yourself, the expectations you set for your performance can become impossibly high.
Alternatively, shift the focus of your presentation to the audience. Your rightful desire to deliver excellence should be directed outwardly, not inwardly. With a few simple strategies it's very easy to lift the pressure on yourself, and simultaneously reap the collateral benefit of coming across as warmer, more relevant and more interesting.
- Use a Jedi Mind Trick...On Yourself!
What often scares us in these situations is our own feeling of inadequacy. Although we are undoubtedly experts on the subject matter, we are most definitely not experts on delivering excellent presentations. Those people are very few and far between, and possess a rare and unique set of skills, right?
Well not really, actually. When chatting with people who present in what appears to be a comfortable, confident and interesting manner, I've discovered that they've simply learned to trick their own minds into switching off their natural anxiety response, and that tendency to feel that they're "not good at this". Although it has to be said that in some cases they've done it without even realising how! However, with a little self-awareness and practice, it's definitely something that can be learned by anyone.
- Speaking of Practice...
I know, it's a little old fashioned. But it really does work.
At your desk. In front of your family. In front of your pets. On the bus or train (I recommend doing this one quietly in your head). In front of a supportive peer. Will you feel silly practicing? Maybe. Will it make you feel more comfortable with what you’ll say and do when the moment comes? Definitely.
The trick here is to know what, how often and with whom to practice. The adage "practice makes perfect" is valid, but only if you're practicing effectively.
- Meet the Audience
If possible, introduce yourself one-on-one to as many of the audience members as you can before your presentation starts. This will allow you to burn off some nervous energy, plus help you see your audience as real people, not a mob poised to attack. It will also allow them to see you’re a human being too. It's a great way of taking the pressure off the first few words of your talk. As a bonus, it often gives rise to some authentic and warm "conversation starters" to get you going at the start of your presentation, without feeling the need to open with a joke (high risk strategy)!
This works very effectively for presenting to 1 person, but believe it or not, equally effectively for 1000 people. While it's unlikely to be able to individually meet 100+ people before a seminar, it is most certainly possible to use a variation of this tip to fool your brain into calming those pre-performance jitters.
These Are Skills, and You Can Learn Them
By exploring the above strategies in a specific, structured and tailored fashion, minimising the symptoms of your natural performance anxiety is very achievable. Imagine how good it would feel to approach that big presentation feeling confident, calm and actually looking forward to presenting!
To learn more about these and other tips to improve your presentations, call or message me on 0473 200 077 or send me a note at Personal Best.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Paul Bindig is the Director/Lead Coach of Personal Best Pty Ltd, and a veteran of 30+ years of public speaking and presentation delivery, starting out as a 14 year-old Air Cadet conducting lectures on flight theory to adults. His business career has seen him present regularly to large and diverse groups including training delivery, conference and seminar presentation. His conference work has included MCing and facilitating Q&A sessions with sporting stars, business leaders, fashion icons and Australians of the Year. Paul has also accumulated 25+ years in the Australian music scene and performed in theatres all over the country in his role as keyboard player with Echoes of Pink Floyd, Australia's premier Pink Floyd tribute show.