The following is a guest post from Danielle Nocon, a presentation design enthusiast with a dream to help spread the visual approach to presentation design.
This is your big chance. You’ve been given the opportunity to speak in front of an audience…to share your ideas and be known outside of your immediate friends and family. You want to be interesting and engaging and memorable…in short, a hit!
But you’re terrified you will be boring, forget what you wanted to say, ramble on incoherently to blank faces, and finally wander off stage, head down and shoulders stooped. At best, forgettable. At worst a memorable fiasco – a laughingstock (not entertaining in the way you intended).
Calm and confident? You get nervous just thinking about the live presentation! Let alone start planning and preparing. You’re stuck in inaction. And when, with all good intentions, you take steps to move forward, it feels like you’re stepping in molasses.
How can you bust out of this nightmare? How do you overcome your nerves and harness the confidence to pull off your dream presentation? Listen to the stars!
5 Lessons from Communicate You Interviews
During the past year Dave has spoke with leading presenters and public speaking gurus Garr Reynolds, Roger Courville, Gary Genard, Sarah Lloyd Hughes, Nancy Duarte and Hilari Weinstein.
Here are five lessons from those conversations that will help you get a handle on nerves, connect with your confidence, and overcome that fear of failing.
1) Fear of Public Speaking
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: fear of public speaking (also known as stage fright or just plain nerves). Each interviewee has distinctive and valuable advice.
Gary observes that the ‘fear’ is a ‘fight or flight’ response intended for life-or-death encounters. This response is completely out of place in a presentation context, where no life-threatening danger exists.
Sarah observes that professional presenters experience nerves just the same as novices. The difference is in how they handle these nerves: by not taking them seriously; by embracing and channeling them in a way that will support instead of hinder a speech.
An antidote to stage fright is confidence. Interestingly, Hilari has discovered multiple forms of confidence, such as inflated, contextual, subject matter, and borrowed. The only trustworthy kind, however, is ‘true confidence’ because it is not a superficial technique but, in fact, comes from trusting yourself.
All presenters agree that the only remedy is to just do it! As Sarah says:
It’s not as bad as you think – you can actually enjoy public speaking. Jump right in!
When preparing for a speech the following steps are recommended by all experts:
- First, determine a topic that meets the needs and interests of the audience
- Be clear on the central message, the purpose of the presentation
- Then, structure the content into a logical sequence that leads to the desired outcome
As Gary points out, don’t neglect the conclusion: your conclusion is your final chance to make a lasting impression.
Most importantly, do not delay! Both Roger and Garr emphasise the importance of allowing sufficient preparation time. Excellence can’t be rushed. Preparation needs to be done thoughtfully.
It is easy to underestimate how much time is takes to put something together with excellence.
Slow down! Slow down delivery. Also slow down preparation. Just stop and think. Think about the problem you are presenting. Don’t be in a hurry. Think about what’s most important in your presentation and what’s not.
3) Audience Engagement
The experts agree that audience engagement is important. But each has his or her own perspective. For instance, Nancy’s unique interpretation refers to resonance: by communicating on the same frequency as the audience, you can move them to take action and carry out your idea.
Roger talks about engaging the three triggers: sensory, cognitive, and social. Sensory triggers engage any one of our five senses. Cognitive triggers prompt a response from the brain. Social triggers involve interaction between people.
Hilari suggests that connecting with a larger audience involves the same basic habits that enhance everyday communication. Get comfortable with interactions in more informal settings with individuals or smaller groups. Then, adapt those skills for formal presentations with larger groups.
The interviewees concur that story brings in the all-important human element. Using storytelling in a presentation makes the message understandable, relatable, persuasive and memorable. The basic elements of a story are a problem or conflict and the solution or transformation.
One thought-provoking observation came from Nancy: people think that personal stories are out of place in a business setting. On the contrary, business people are human beings. Stories make business messages relevant and impressive on a human level: the basis on which the speaker can compel listeners to act upon his/her idea.
5) Visual Aids
The expert consensus is that slides (with a blend of images and text accompanying the presenter’s speech) help the audience understand and remember the message.
Roger uses an analogy with television documentaries to eloquently illustrate the point:
For me they work together. If you think of a television documentary there are times when no narration is required because the visual is carrying the message. There are times when there’s no need for a visual because the narration is carrying the message. When they are designed purposely together, they work to create something that is better than the individual parts.
Tying It All Together
These five lessons will help you overcome your fear of public speaking from day one. All of the elements of a successful speech are interconnected:
- Fear of Public Speaking
- Audience Engagement
- Visual Aids
As for stage fright, anyone who is new at something goes through the beginner stage. Some may have a natural talent for the activity and go through the beginner stage more quickly. Others may be more awkward at first and take longer to advance. But no one gets to skip over the beginner stage entirely.
Nevertheless, preparation helps bolster your confidence and appease those nerves, because you’re more at your ease if you’re prepared.
And preparation starts with the audience. Audience is the central element and story is the golden thread tying it all together. Crafting the presentation itself as a story and telling stories within the presentation provides for message and structure and audience engagement.
Visuals are the illustrations for the story, aiding both the presenter and the audience. They enforce the presenter’s message and help the audience to understand and remember that message.
In the end, professional speakers consider themselves students too. Final words to Gary:
Learning from our presentations is a life-long task. The sum total of what you learn from speaking is part of who you are.
Check out each interview in full here.
Danielle Nocon helps presenters with their visuals by teaching a combination of visual design and story principles to help presenters engage their audiences and make their presentations more persuasive. Find out more about how Danielle helps presenters make their presentations memorable here.