“If you are prepared you will not fear.”
When I first heard the saying, “If you are prepared you will not fear”, I thought it was the answer to all causes of concern and fear. Yet, we continue to observe situations like the following:
A senior manager briskly moves to the front of the room where she will deliver her presentation to executives of a Fortune 500 organization. Her presentation outlines the financial projections for the upcoming quarter. The manager knows this is her time to shine; she and her assistant have spent copious hours preparing for this very moment. As she stares into the eyes of the audience, she freezes; she cannot remember the presentation, the content, or even where she is. As she stands in silence for what seems an eternity, her assistant comes to the rescue. Familiar with the content, the hours of preparation, and the slides, the assistant uses the notes they prepared and she delivers the presentation.
It is normal to have a certain amount of fear and anxiety when presenting in front of an audience. Gartner Group research indicates that speaking in public is the number two fear in America, higher than the fear of death. Jerry Seinfeld summarized this fear during his comedy routine joking that, “when attending a funeral, more people would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.” Even when presentations are properly prepared, a person can freeze and be unable to deliver an effective presentation. So what can be done to keep the nerves from doing the unthinkable?
First, one must understand that nervousness, fear or anxiety is natural and is needed for success. Do not think you are the only one to get nervous prior to an important presentation. Even professional speakers who deliver keynote presentations to hundreds, even thousands of audience members, have a certain level of anxiety. I have been standing in front of audiences and speaking since I was in my teens. I still feel my heart race and my breathing become shallow before I speak. I can tell you that as an athlete and a coach that too much fear will cause a poor performance, but on the other hand, not enough fear or anxiety can cause a poor performance also. We have all seen our favorite team be called on to “calm down, you are too excited” or “get pumped up, you are too relaxed!”
Next time you are about to stand and deliver, try some of the calming techniques described below.
Exercise: take a brisk walk down the hall. You have energy pent up inside and a quick walk can relieve some excess energy before you need to stand still and speak. Even some stretching can help.
Breathe: slow down your breathing by taking a long exhale and a cleansing inhale. When we are anxious, our breathing becomes shallow and quick. As a result our lungs fill with air but we do not fully exhale as we speak. Another inhale fills our lungs again. We end up speaking off the top of our lungs causing our voice to flutter.
No caffeine: abstain from any caffeine. You are already in flight or fight mode and your heart is beating fast. The last thing you need is a stimulant.
Rehearse: practice your presentation. A major part of that preparation is to actually practice giving the complete presentation. This helps with your timing, transitions and your confidence.
Remember, it's perfectly normal to be nervous before delivering a presentation. Fear is part of being a speaker. The key is to not allow your anxiety to distract from your message. As Art Linkletter said, "You just have to get your butterflies flying in formation."
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