Freelance life, Maslen on Marketing

How to banish presenter’s nerves

I was talking to a freelance copywriter last week. She first contacted me a couple of years ago just ahead of a speech she had to deliver. I asked he how it went.

“Brilliant!” she said. “I was nervous, but it went fine.”

She might have been more accurate had she said, “Brilliant! I was nervous SO it went fine.”

A lot of inexperienced public speakers (which is most people) tend to assume that nerves are a bad thing. They feel unpleasant. We have learned to associate them with fearful situations. After, all, that’s where the whole physiological reaction comes from.

But it’s the nerves that sharpen you up and give that extra oomph to your seminar, presentation or speech.

Nevertheless, there are a whole bunch of things you can do to get those nerves under control. Here are just five…

One, memorise your opening two sentences. Not the whole speech, that way disaster lies. Just your opening remarks.

If you can walk to the podium, smile at your audience and confidently begin, “Hi. My name’s Andy Maslen. I’m going to tell you story that will change the way you think about bananas for ever,” two things will happen. Your audience will relax. And so will you.

Two, do NOT use PowerPoint. PowerPoint is the work of the devil. It encourages you to speak to the screen not your audience. And to put your speech up where everyone can see it. As a result, your audience spends most of the time looking at the screen not at you.

Instead, write your notes on index cards (or your iPhone), have them (or it) in font of you and speak to those. You will have rehearsed your speech so you know what you want to say, all you need is prompts.

If you need to illustrate your talk, fine, use a projector. Just remember that you can project from many applications, so you still don’t need those bullet points and flying dissolves.

Three, begin your talk by asking your audience for “a show of hands”. And use that exact wording. Put your own hand high in the air as you say it to demonstrate what you want people to do.

This puts you in command straight away. It gets the audience participating, without having to ask for a microphone or risk looking silly. And if you ask the right question, you can lead directly into your main point.

Four, get suited and booted. If you feel good you will sound good. Many speakers have a favourite outfit that they feel powerful in, maybe a handmade suit or a particularly nice jacket. The idea is to create a persona – that of a confident presenter.

Five, if you are worried you’ll forget what you wanted to say at some point, have this handy get out of jail free card ready. Imagine you are half-way in, it’s going pretty well, when you suddenly have a brain freeze and can’t remember what you were going to say.

You just smile, scratch your head or look puzzled and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I seem to be experiencing temporary brain death. I just need to consult my notes.”

Then recap your last point and you will be able, magically, to continue. Your audience will be forgiving – they’ve all been there too.

And I’m telling you this because

Whatever your line of business, whether you work for yourself or somebody else, the ability to speak in front of a group is one of the best skills you can possess. The fact that most people want to avoid public speaking at all costs only opens the gap even wider for you.

Oral communication is far more effective than written in stimulating a response, since you have a much richer array of tools to call on, from genuine tone of voice to your body language. Furthermore, you can invite questions and open a dialogue with your audience.

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