By Roberto Garvin
Presentations are a pain for most people.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re presenting company data in front of a room full of your peers, conducting an online seminar, or standing in front of your fellow students trying to impress your teacher. Public speaking is a daunting experience for the majority of us.
The term for fear of public speaking is called “glossophobia.” Approximately 10 percent of the population suffers from it.
That is, a debilitating fear of speaking in front of crowds. These people will take giant steps to avoid speaking in front of a group. They will experience nausea, extreme anxiety, and panic attacks.
The inverse of this is the 10 percent of people that absolutely love public speaking. These are often the uncles known for giving great wedding toasts, the boardroom quipster, and the classroom clown.
They have no fear of talking in a group setting and, in fact, get a big buzz from being in front of a large crowd.
The rest of us are relegated to that bulky middle area. We are the 80 percent of people who open butterfly farms in our stomachs before a presentation. We feel anxious and find it difficult to sleep the night before a public speech but we know we’ll survive.
Fortunately, there are a number of tools and tricks we can use to improve our presentation skills.
1. Tell a story
This is Public Speaking Advice 101. But that’s because it’s proven to work.
According to a Stanford University study, “when students are asked to recall the speeches, 63 percent remember the stories. Only 5 percent remember any individual statistic.”
Humans are natural storytellers and we relate to stories on an instinctual level. These narratives are evolutionary social tools we’ve developed to relate our experiences and create empathy.
Because of this, we find it easier to listen and relate to a story than something like a list of facts or statements. So find whatever you can in your presentation that can be transformed into a story.
Use your real life or invent stories out of thin air. Find illustrative metaphors to help prove your points. The point is that by weaving narratives throughout your presentation you’ll be able to hold people’s attention.
2. Look the part
Like it or not, speaking is an image business.
In many ways, public speaking is about “faking it till you make it.” That is, by looking the part you’ll be able to feel more confident and provide a better and more impressive presentation for your audience.
More modern thoughts dictate you should dress at least as nice as your audience. Traditional wisdom dictates that you should dress slightly better than the crowd. That way, if you’re audience appraisal is flawed, you have a dress-code buffer.
Ultimately, you should look neat, cut, and feel comfortable. Accessories are another excellent way to show that you’re professional. Something like a professional presentation folder can help boost your confidence before walking in front of the crowd.
You can try sites like CompanyFolders.com. These sites provide elegant and affordable options for your public speaking engagements.
3. Ask questions
Statements of fact can sound forced or obvious, especially during a presentation. But presentations are generally nothing more than a series of statements back-to-back.
But there is a way to break the monotony: Try asking questions. This helps to change up the rhythm and emphasizes the point you’re making.
It has the additional benefit of changing your presentation from a passive exercise into an engaging experience.
4. Learn to use PowerPoint properly
When speakers do nothing more than read off their pre-prepared slides it’s snore-inducing. We’ve all seen (or slept through) these presentations. But data is important.
By adding facts and figures to a presentation, you can increase audience retention by 20 percent, according to one study by SOAP Presentations, which has designed presentations for major clients like Samsung, Microsoft, and Google.
Just make sure the facts are presented in a visually compelling and engaging way.
5. Don’t be afraid to improvise
That same study from SOAP Presentations, your delivery is actually more important than the content of your presentation.
The study shows that content only represents about 7 percent of an effective combination. The rest is made up of your voice and non-verbal communications.
One of the quickest ways to suppress your unique voice is by reading directly from your presentation slides. When we read from our slides our audience inevitably reads along with us. And studies show that our minds wander 20-40 percent of the time while reading.
When you read off your presentation, your audience will inevitably read along with you. And it has been shown that our minds wander 20-40% of the time while reading.
Instead, your slides should be used to accentuate your points. You should also know the content well enough to be able to go off-script. In order to do this, you need to really know your subject matter.
But if you’re excited and engaged it will show. The audience will be able to tell which lines are rehearsed and which ones are improvised.
6. Listen to and control your body
Our bodies are constantly trying to tell us things. That’s why it’s so hard to tune them out when we’re nervous about doing a presentation – our fight or flight instinct kicks in.
But there are ways we can get our bodies under control so that they work for us when we need them to:
A study from Washington State University showed that students who visualized themselves giving a compelling speech reported feeling less anxiety than those who didn’t.
An Australian study of 46 musicians found that those who spent time breathing deeply thirty minutes before going on stage reported feeling less anxiety and tenseness during the performance.
- Posture matters
Social psychologist Amy Cuddy demonstrated that a “power pose” while speaking can boost confidence and improve audience perception of your presentation.
Public speaking is hard. There’s no doubt about it.
Unfortunately, though, the reality is that most of us will have to stand in front of a crowd at one point or another. Fortunately, there are mountains of research that shows us our nerves are surmountable.
By using these tactics, we can conquer our fears and ensure our presentations impress our audiences.
Roberto Garvin is the cofounder of Mofluid.
Image: The Leaders Institute