5 tips to conquer the fear of public speaking and give effective presentations

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In today’s work environment, sharing of knowledge and data is very important. One of the common ways of doing this is through presentations. Some people treat giving presentations as an opportunity for self-improvement & growth and look towards them.

Many others despise giving presentations. Some even dislike sitting through the presentations.  Some of them think that it is a waste of time and the audience isn’t going to retain anything said during a 30-60 minute one-way communication. Or they may think that giving presentation is not as important as their day to day work.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/metropolitician/2439186601

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/metropolitician/2439186601

The other category is of people who don’t feel confident about their communication skills, for example people who think they are not fluent enough in English(or the language in which they are giving presentation). Then there is a category of people who have great communication skills in one-on-one  setting or in small informal gathering, but they are afraid of public speaking. Many studies have found that a fear of public speaking is the number one fear of people. It is so great that even the fear of death comes in second behind public speaking.

This post is going to address two issues:

  • Mental barriers which refrain one from giving due importance to effective presentation skills
  • Fear of public speaking

If you among those who think that presentation is not as important as day to day work is, then, you are up for learning your lesson the hard way. A steady stream of good presentations backed by high quality domain knowledge is the recipe for faster success in today’s work environment. Now, this doesn’t mean that other skills are not necessary and by giving good presentations you can reach the CXO level in your organization. But when there are two persons of almost equal caliber, then the person with better presentation skills is more likely going to go forward faster than the other. Just ask yourself – how many people you have seen who have worked to the top of the career ladder and are very boring presenters. It is not that such leaders don’t exist, but their number is far lesser and their stint at the top is limited.

Secondly, doing just your daily work can take you only so far in your career. It is just like eating daily can give you energy for day to day work, but it cannot build your muscles and stamina. No one likes exercising, but the ones who go beyond their mental hindrances and make it a habit – lead far more healthier, longer and positive lives. Similarly, people who get out of their mental challenges and start building good presentations skills lead far better careers than the ones who prefer to sit in their cubicles between 9 to 5.

Here are few ways in which giving good presentations can help you in your career.

Importance of presentations: If you can relate to the people who despise presentations and try to avoid them, then this section is for you. Know that by giving effective presentations there is at least one person who is always going to be benefitted – and that is you. Here is how:

  • Establish authority: First benefit is when you give a good presentations on a topic, you establish yourself as an authority for that topic. For example if you give a presentation on Object Oriented Programming or Test Automation – then the audience starts associating you with these areas of expertise. And this is good for your career. You may be average at automation, but the presentation will establish you as an authority in automation as compared to someone who is expert at it and prefers to keep it to himself.
  • Strengthen your technical skills: If you are giving a technical presentation, the whole process of researching and putting your knowledge in writing for the presentation will strengthen your technical skills. You will try to put yourself in the audience’s shoes and try to find answers to all potential questions that you can conceive. In the process you may gain new perspectives in some of the concepts.
  • Create visibility: Having good visibility is very important for the career progression. Giving presentation is a good and shortest way to get noticed by audiences. You can work with only so many people on day to day basis. But giving presentation may get your name in the minds of 20-50 (or maybe more) people in a single session. More important it will get you noticed by the people higher up than your immediate supervisor.
  • Foster relationships: Giving good presentation will establish you as an authority in an area. Subsequently many of your colleagues may get in touch with you whenever they need any help in that area. This will create new friendships regardless of whether you are able to help them or not.
  • Save yourself from office politics to a great extent: Giving good presentations will help you overcome the hurdles created by office politics. It is very important to give a lot of presentations in the areas of your expertise. That way the people indulged in office politics can’t play your expertise down in that area in front of the upper management.
  • Improve your presentation skills: Giving more and more presentations increase you presentation skills. This important because, as you climb the career ladder you will be required to give presentation to a variety of audience(your subordinates, seniors, other teams and maybe clients) and on variety of topics. You cannot afford to being unconfident at that stage. Hence it is important to start building your presentation skills as early as possible in your career.
  • Contribution to career advancement:  Establishing yourself as authority, creating visibility and improving soft skills improves your chances of career advancement. No matter how good you are technically, but if you don’t speak up you are not visible. And if you are not visible, then your growth may get stuck at some point in your career.

If you realize the importance of good presentation skills, then here are five tips – all based on my own experience, to conquer you fear of public speaking and give effective presentations:

1. Start small. When it comes to public speaking, the bigger the crowd the bigger the fear.If you practice speaking in front of a small group of friends and family, it can help you build the confidence you need to speak in front of larger groups. If you are working then take some technical/non-technical session for your team and slowly increase the audience by inviting more teams as the comfort level grows.

2. Preparation is key. Do you fear public speaking because you’re afraid you’ll forget what you want to say and look foolish? Ensure that doesn’t happen by being prepared. Write the script and practice it over and over. No matter how much you know about the subject, if you have not practiced your presentation well, then you are likely to lose the confidence the moment you step in front of the crowd. Practice your presentation alone and then slowly do it in front of family and friends/your team or your mentees or team mates. Do it as many times as possible.

I remember giving one  presentation to  four separate groups of people over a period of few months. For few reasons I could not get these groups together for one session.  And before each session I would rehearse the presentation multiple times. By the time of the fourth session everything i.e. my wording, slide progression etc. had become automatic and I was ready to give the presentation to any audience of any size with very less practice.

But you don’t need to give a presentation four times like above to get it perfect. I have given many impressive presentations by just rehearsing to myself over and over again before the actual presentation. The most important part is to rehearse as if you are giving the presentation to live audience i.e. practice it out loud and use the same words as you would use in live session. Do not mumble or grumble. If you find yourself mumbling & grumbling – perfect the points where you are doing it. These are possibly weak links in your presentation and during real presentation also you might get stuck at these points. The idea is to have at least as smooth presentation during preparation stage as you would like in front of live audience.

3. Trust you memory and intellect. Try to memorize the important points and most importantly – the slide sequence. Memorizing the whole script isn’t necessary.  One trick is to have static sentences for slide transition. This is the sentence you will say when shifting forward from slide x to x+1. It is important to have a unique sentence for each transition. These sentences provide the flow to the presentation and give the impression that you know your subject very well. Practice again and again to get these transition sentences right. During the live presentation this trick is going to add to your confidence and you will feel in charge of the situation.

4. Visualize yourself being successful when you give your presentation. The human brain is unable to tell the difference between reality and that which is vividly imagined. Spend some time visualizing a successful presentation and it will help you build confidence.

5. Practice some breathing exercises before you give your presentation. Breathing exercises are an effective way to cope with fear and calm your mind. They normalize the flow of oxygen to your brain and soothe your nerves.

The only way to truly get past your fear of public speaking and give excellent presentations is to try it. Start practicing now. It will get easier each time you do it.

The only way to get past the fear of doing something is to start doing it. I would urge you to pick up a topic this week. It doesn’t matter how big or small. Just pick up a topic of your interest. Schedule a presentation on this topic sometime next week and immediately send out an invite to team/friends who you want to invite to this session. And start preparing for it with above points in mind. Hope it doesn’t scare you off Smile. But if you read this post and promise yourself that you will definitely do it someday – then that day is never going to come. Hence it is important to be specific and work towards a goal.

Hope you find this post useful. Please let me know your thoughts through comments/email. If you are coming through some search engine, then please  subscribe to our newsletter to receive periodic updates.