Almost everyone gets anxious when they make a presentation. That’s why Mike Keller wrote the book I’d Rather Die Than Give A Speech! But not all of us are equally anxious in different situation. Speakers most often fear speaking in front of large groups. So, we thought we’d focus on techniques to handle these fears.
Why is speaking in small groups easier?
- We’re used to speaking one-on-one and in small groups, at home, in the office, at community functions, etc. We harness our normal conversational “comfort zone” when making such presentations. And that is the way it should be: a presentation really is nothing more than a focused (and hopefully rehearsed) conversation in which you can use visuals to complement what you say.
- All our lives, we’ve learned how to “read” other people and use their body language and verbal feedback to determine whether we’re “connecting”. Indeed, we often look for such feedback (eyes connecting, heads shaking, smiles approving, etc.) to encourage us through a presentation.
In large groups:
- We lose the ability to harness the “conversational” comfort zone, because our brain thinks of this as something different a “scary presentation”
- We’re insecure about the quality of the presentation: do I really know the content?; is the message succinct or longwinded? is it compelling or just another boring presentation? will my presentation make me proud or embarrass me?
- We’re not able to get feedback, especially if the audience of 50-1000 is in a darkened room
Tips for overcoming the fears:
- Do your homework and be competent about your presentation topic, structure and design.
- Identify a few people in the audience before the event to speak to and put them in the first few rows. Alternatively, at the beginning of the presentation, use eye contact to connect to a few people scattered through the front rows until a few subconsciously give you feedback (e.g., shake their head, smile, etc.).
- Tap into your “conversational comfort zone” by talking to these people and use their feedback to reinforce you. Since they are scattered throughout the audience, everyone near them will think you are talking to them – and many will start giving you feedback, further making you feel more comfortable presenting.
- Remember, a presentation is simply a focused conversation.
How do you deal with your public speaking fears? Reply in the comments!