beat the nerves: 9 tips for giving talks and presentations

Public speaking tips

You’re up next, and that feeling of panic is taking hold. In your legs. Your stomach. The palms of your hands.

Yep. Public speaking can be scary.

It doesn’t matter if your audience is big or small. Whether you’re pitching for a business contract, or just trying to win over work colleagues to a new idea. If the nerves take hold, it’s grim.

Of course, it’s natural to feel nervous when there’s a lot at stake. The trick is to manage that nervousness – to feed off it, instead of letting it beat you to a pulp.

These simple tips and tricks might help.



1. know your stuff

If you really know your subject, you’ll never be stuck for something to say.

Do your homework and structure your talks around your knowledge.

Be clear about the key points you’re going to make, any examples you’ll use, and the actions and ideas you want your audience to take away.



2. less is more – stick to things that really matter

Ok. You want to demonstrate the full depth of your knowledge. Or the scope of this huge project you’ve been working on.

But people get bored. And when they get bored, they stop listening.

Prune your thinking and stick to the ideas and messages that really matter. So there’s a better chance your audience will follow what you’re saying, and remember the important bits.



3. focus on the friendly faces (ignore the miserable ones)

You’re in full flow, and – suddenly – you spot someone who looks completely unimpressed. Maybe they frown, or shake their head for good measure.

Look away. Forget about them. And focus on the positive faces in the crowd.

It’s the people who show enthusiasm for what you’re saying that will lift your confidence, and spur you on to say greater things.



4. get excited (not nervous)

When you feel the nerves taking hold, tell yourself it’s excitement. Turn that crackling anxiety into energy, and channel it into your performance.

It’s a trick used by a lot of top sportspeople. They make a conscious effort to interpret nerves as excitement. And it works.



5. pause when you feel like it

If you can feel anxiety creeping into your voice, don’t be afraid to slow down the tempo or pause.

Talking more slowly allows you to breathe more deeply, which can help you control your voice.

It also shows (in a nice way) that you’re in control, and taking the audience on a journey of your choosing, at your pace.



6. have a back-up plan (if the IT goes pear-shaped)

You’ve got a video you want to show as part of your talk. You turn up at the venue and the IT doesn’t work. You can’t show it.

Go and hide in the toilets? You could…but it’s not the best strategy. A better approach is to have a plan B in the event of an IT meltdown.

Could you talk your audience through the essence of the video if you had to? Memorise the content and any keys stats, facts or points you want to get across – just in case.



7. finish with a call to action

Make it clear what you’d like your audience to do at the end of the presentation.

Don’t just leave them at a dead end – give them a route forward. If you want them to check out that website, connect with you on LinkedIn, or whatever, make it clear.

This increases the potential impact of your talk, and helps you finish on a note of authority.

“Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed it. Now this is what I want you to do (in the nicest possible way ).”



8. be confident, but humble

Be confident, but don’t be cocky.

It’s possible to over-compensate for nerves, and come across as a bit cock-sure in the process.

If it feels right, maybe chuck in some self-effacing humour. Or be open about the limits of your knowledge. Or some of the mistakes you’ve made.

Sell yourself, but show humility.



9. learn from others

Last but not least, watch the experts. TED is a good place to start.

There are loads of talks by TED presenters that are recognised as great examples of public speaking. With great body language, tone, content and cadence.

And if you hear someone talk, and they make a big impression on you, try to work out why – and borrow some of their techniques.



Like most things, public speaking is about practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.

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