Overcoming the fears of giving presentations
Author: Robin Baker | August 1, 2019
“Did I take my heart pill today?”, you ask yourself as you feel your heart starting to palpitate. You are relieved when you remember that you did, but such relief is only momentary. As you raise your eyes to the seemingly countless pairs of eyes staring at you, your heart shifts into an even higher gear. You’re facing your worst fear again – public speaking.
The idea of giving a public presentation scares even the bravest of hearts. The fear of public speaking even has a name – glossophobia. It strikes at any given moment, afflicting even experienced public speakers. Despite being well prepared and having all the confidence in the world, when it’s time to get on the stage, everything changes. Your stomach tightens itself into a knot, your hands shake, your legs turn into jelly and sweat pours down your face. Why, though? Consider 9 common fears, why we feel them, what we can do to avoid them and what to do when fear does strike.
- “What if I forget my words or make a mistake?”
We’re only human. Forgetting your words and making mistakes comes as a side effect of being imperfect. It’s only natural to suffer from this fear. When giving a long presentation, it is especially easy to forget those eloquent words you spent an eternity working out or to simply say them in the wrong order. When the audience is large, anxiety levels rise in your already stressed brain and it’s only downhill from there.
Notes! The importance of having well prepared notes or a script cannot be stressed enough. The next step is to know your notes or script well! However, memorizing your entire script and repeating everything word for word is a trap. Not only will you sound unnatural, you will also be more prone to make mistakes. Instead of memorizing words, why not memorize ideas? If you know and understand what you want to say, words will flow naturally.
But what if you still forget or make a mistake? That’s what your notes are for! If it is necessary, pause for a brief moment and look at your notes. To fill in the silence, ask a related question. While the audience is answering the question, you will have an opportunity to have a quick look at your notes or script and remember your words. But here’s an even better idea – improvise! Go off script and carry on. The exact words you use don’t matter, as long as you get the main ideas across to the audience.
- “My English is poor and there are “holes” in my vocabulary”
Some weren’t fortunate enough to grow up speaking English. For others, English is their home language, but they aren’t able to speak socalled “High English”. This need not be an obstacle!
By preparing well, you will know what to say and how to say it! By practicing, you will be used to saying it! Even if your English isn’t the best, with preparation and practice, you will be able to give your presentation fluently. Another useful tip is to note down important phrases or words that you have trouble remembering or that you get wrong all the time.
If you do make a language mistake, just keep going or ask for help to fill in a word if you need to. However, never apologize for your English; many will not even notice.
- Technical problems
Technical problems happen! That is why preparation is so important! Double check that all the equipment is working long before the start of your presentation. Ask the IT department to help you check for and fix technical issues.
But what if everything was working and, as soon as you start your presentation, it all goes haywire? Never say: “I checked everything and it was working. I’m not sure what happened.” It would be far better to pause, apologize for the technical issue and say that it will be fixed shortly. If the problem cannot be resolved that quickly, announce that there will be a brief interlude and that the presentation will be continued shortly.
- “What if the audience asks me a question I can’t answer?”
The truth is that it is something that will eventually happen to every public speaker out there! Should we live in morbid fear of the day it will happen to us? Of course not!
To avoid this obstacle for as long as possible, prepare well; better yet – be overly well prepared. That question that you think nobody will ever ask is probably the question that will be asked. It would therefore be wise to study information that is related to the topic of your presentation even though you don’t plan to discuss such information. Simply put, the more you know, the more you will be able to answer.
But what do you do when the dreaded day comes? Stay calm! Ask the audience if they know the answer to the question. Chances are that someone will know the answer. If nobody knows the answer, write the question down and say that you will get back to it as soon as you know the answer. If the circumstances allow and you know that you will speak to the same audience again, ask them to research the topic.
- “What if the audience sees that I am stressed?”
If you are indeed stressed, odds are that the audience will notice it. How can you deal with this fear?
Prepare yourself mentally. Tell yourself: “I can do this!” Before giving the presentation, do some breathing exercises. Remind yourself that you did all the necessary research and preparation, and that you don’t have anything to be worried about. As part of your preparation, practice giving at least the first part of your presentation in front of friends, colleagues or a mirror.
If you feel stressed during the presentation, pause for a moment, take a deep breath and carry on. To help you look and feel more confident, stand with a good posture and fold your hands if they are shaking. Ask questions; not only will this give you a chance to breathe, it will also shift some of the attention from you to the audience.
- “What if the audience loses interest?”
There is nothing more terrible than seeing your audience leave your presentation, due to a lack of interest in what you’re saying and worse still – seeing them fall asleep! It can happen! How? If you talk about something they’re not interested in!
Get to know your audience, find out what interests them and prepare your presentation accordingly. Focus on them! Talking about yourself will bore them instantly.
But what if it does happen? Don’t just continue your presentation as planned! Change something! Try involving your audience more. Give them small tasks to do. Ask questions. Give the audience true or false, or multiple-choice questions to answer. However, make sure that your questions are meaningful. Don’t ask pointless or meaningless questions; this will only make your audience more disinterested.
Above all, help the audience see that what you are saying is important. Help them see how it is relevant to them.
- “What if they lose their energy?”
If the people in your audience lose their energy, it truly is a dreadful situation. If it happens, your audience won’t enjoy your presentation; they will forget what you say and it will affect the energy you have!
Make sure that the room is well lit and that there is sufficient water for your audience to drink. Bad lighting will make them sleepy.
During your presentation, modulate your voice, use gestures and crack a joke when appropriate. Keep it fresh! Alternate between Presenter – Audience, Individual, Pair Work and Group Work interaction. Be observant! If you notice that energy levels are dropping, take a break.
- Not saying anything meaningful
If what you are saying isn’t meaningful, people are not going to pay attention. How can you make sure that what you are saying is meaningful?
Avoid saying things your audience already knows. Get to know your audience. Find out how deep their knowledge is of the topic by asking questions before your presentation.
Start the presentation by asking questions. Look for things they don’t know yet or things that they are misinformed about. However, take care that you do not come across as judgmental or belittling when correcting wrong ideas.
- “What if they judge me?”
It is completely natural to be afraid of being judged. Seeing people looking judgmentally at us is terrifying. It breaks our confidence. Nothing is worse than feeling that people do not respect our opinion or that they look down on us because they have more indepth knowledge on the topic we are presenting than we do. How can we handle this fear?
The simple truth is that there will often be people in the audience who know much more than we do. However, that is not the point. Tell the audience what you think and how you feel about the particular topic. Present a problem as well as what you view as the best solution. Ask the people in your audience to express their opinions. Be open minded: embrace their ideas. This will help them to respect your opinions and views.
Don’t be afraid of fear! It’s normal! A measure of fear can be healthy to a degree. It keeps you on your toes and ensures that you give your all and that you are always well prepared! Of course, too much fear will affect you detrimentally. Being overly anxious when speaking in public will break your confidence, resulting in a sub-standard talk or presentation.
That being said, freeing your mind from every last bit of fear isn’t the key to speaking successfully in public; rather, it’s overcoming excessive fear. Keep that in mind, as well as the tips and pointers outlined in this article, and you’ll confidently ace those public presentations!
Remember – prepare well, stay calm, stay focused and believe in yourself. You can do it!
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