So you’ve landed your dream job and everything is going great! Rainbows and sunshine every day...that is until you find out that you HAVE to give a presentation to upper management about why your team is not achieving their quarterly goals! All of a sudden, your heart starts racing, beads of sweat pour down your forehead, and the room is spinning. None of these physical responses feel good in life, but they feel even worse while you’re at work. You can’t run out of the office crying or screaming because Lucy’s desk from accounts receivables is located right outside your cubicle, and she is known for being the company gossip (and she will tell everyone that you are basket case!)
How did your fairy-tale job all of a sudden turn into a horror film? One word: PRESENTATION! Just like Seinfeld’s quote about fear of public speaking, some people would rather die than give a speech. Is that how you feel right about now?
As a speech instructor and coach for over a decade, I have witnessed many different variations of public speaking anxiety in my students and private clients. It was humorous just how many “car issues” my college students had around the time speeches were due. It would have been easy for me to stand on my teacher “soap box” and dismiss their fears, but I experienced many of the same issues myself as a performer.
When speaking in front of a live audience, you are confronted with so many challenges that are beyond your control. Over the years, I have had to go onstage (or on camera) sick, unprepared, unfocused, unconfident, and worst of all having a 45 minute long panic attack (not fun!).
Fortunately, none of these experiences killed me (nor did the fears kill any of my students or clients). Instead, I learned to always come back to a basic principle that applies to every type of performance situation: PREPARATION. Preparing for a speech can be an extremely simple activity if you always remember to be clear about WHO you are talking to and WHAT you are trying get from them? This simple preparation technique will direct your focus on the task at hand, and divert your attention away from your fear of “messing up” or “looking dumb!”
When you have to create a presentation for work or any other event, I suggest preparing by answering these two questions:
- WHO am I talking to? Knowing your audience is key! What pieces of information will engage them, enlighten them, and/or entertain them? How do you find these things out? Do your research beforehand and try to learn what problems your audience members have (as related to the topic of your presentation). Then you may edit your speech to feature information that pertains specifically to their needs. Another benefit is that you will essentially be crafting the presentation in a language that they will hear and understand better. Imagine how heroic you will be when you help solve their issues with your presentation.
- WHAT do I want from my audience? Knowing what you want from your audience is just as important as knowing who they are. If you don’t know what you want, how are you going to get it? Do you want your audience to be happy or sad with your information? Do you want them to discuss the issues further, or do you want them to promote you to be the person in charge of solving these problems? Once you are clear about what you want, you will be able to effectively expand upon relevant content to achieve your desired goals. Having clear purpose and intention is pivotal to a successful speech.
Many public speaking “tips” talk about practicing more, and breathing before you go up to give your speech. However, I have found that the worst performances I’ve ever given were ones in which I didn’t know what I was doing. These painful presentations happened not because I hadn’t practiced enough or because I forgot to breathe (which, let’s face it, is impossible), but because I hadn’t prepared and my intentions were not clear. I failed to articulate what my main purpose was, how the audience could benefit, and what key points the audience members could walk away with and put into use.
The point is, you will have fears and be nervous before any big presentation. But if you prepare by articulating the WHO and WHAT, you will be able to get through the presentation. And yes, you will survive and be able to get you back to your super fulfilling job duties! Yes, the job duties that you were actually hired for and are excited about!