By Chally Kacelnik
As part of our leadership development programs, participants need to make presentations on their work. At the end of the program, it’s very common for us to receive feedback that improved presentation skills are one of the main things people got out of the course. However, gaining those skills is not an easy road for some. One very common exchange is for a participant to say “I’m really nervous,” followed by one of our facilitators saying “I would never have known if you hadn’t said anything.”
Personally, I’ve historically really struggled with public speaking and presentations. This is not to say I can’t do it well – I’ve got a diploma in speech and back at school I ranked in many a public speaking competition. It is just to say that it’s far from my favourite thing to do. So here’s a little advice on presenting from someone who dislikes public speaking.
Often, people can’t tell that you’re nervous. Verbally acknowledging what’s happening for you to another person before you speak can really help to offset your nerves, externalising the turmoil. Recognising that people are unlikely to think poorly of you for being nervous can also help – or, at least, anyone who thinks badly of you sounds like the kind of person whose good opinion you wouldn’t really want to value anyway.
Generally, people are less invested in thinking badly of you than they are interested in what you have to say. I’ve attended lots of really interesting, engaging presentations from people who were very visibly nervous and stuttering. This did not get in the way of the presentation because they were able to convey well-organised and meaningful content. Be prepared and have something compelling to say, ideally with non-cluttered slides or visual aids; this is more than half the battle. If you stumble and lose your way a little, then keep getting back up and trying, people will respect you all the more for it.
I’ve talked about this in social terms because people are scared of public speaking for social reasons. The security specialist Gavin de Becker says that fear of public speaking is about fear of public shame that can cause a loss of identity that feels like death. If that rings true for you on some level, then acknowledging that’s what’s going on for you psychologically can be helpful, because it’s not factually true. Being able to see what’s what’s going on can mitigate the problem.