Fear of public speaking stems from the very basic need to feel accepted. We want to be seen to be doing well and we fear making fools of ourselves. In order to overcome this fear, most presenters do indeed spend a good deal of time preparing for their presentations, but their time allocation is heavily weighted toward their slide shows, rather than paying attention to how the message is being communicated orally and physically. This can lead to their “on stage” downfall.
The Missing Ingredient
In order to overcome this, it is vital to allow enough time to rehearse a presentation a few times prior to going live. We call practice “the missing ingredient,” as presenters often don’t quite get to it and wonder why they approach the stage in a state of uncontrollable nervousness. It’s not just about preparation, it’s actually about the right preparation!
The rehearsal or “first dry” run often feels like a disaster as you are, in effect, familiarizing yourself with the intended flow. Inevitably you will want to make adjustments afterwards. At this stage you may feel that you still have plenty of work to do, but you may be underestimating the power of your brain, as the purpose of the first dry run is mainly to establish order in your structure and become familiar with it. Having completed the first dry run, the second rehearsal is usually much smoother and gives you the confidence boost you need. You can use the 2nd rehearsal to time the duration of your presentation. By now you will feel far better mentally equipped to make your presentation to live audience. If you have time, you may do a 3rd rehearsal for “insurance!”
Presenters who make time to rehearse almost always present better than those that fail to rehearse, as they approach their presentation on the day knowing what to expect. But beware of only rehearsing once. You need the 2nd run for timing and to get your confidence levels up. During that 2nd practice you may want to be facing a mirror. That way you receive real time feedback on your body language, and you can see whether you come across convincingly or not. If you use a camcorder and record your presentation you can playback and focus not only on your gestures and stance but your voice quality too including expression, pace and adequate volume without shouting.
Rehearsal eliminates most other common fears too. Once you are familiar with the flow of your presentation, the fear of losing your way seems to abate. The tendency to plan too much content can be averted by not preparing too much content, and then timing your presentation at rehearsal stage. If you allocate some time for questions, you can use that time as a flexible buffer. If you’ve recorded yourself, you will be able to identify whether your tone of voice is sufficiently expressive, and your body language compelling enough to convince an audience. You can’t do any of these things unless you set aside the time to rehearse.
By allocating enough time to rehearse you will not only deliver more compelling presentations, but you will rid yourself of the main fears that reduce so many presenters to shuddering, sleep-deprived wrecks. You not only owe this to the audience that has come to listen to you — you owe it to yourself!
One last, but very important tip: Don’t expect anxiety to disappear in a flash just because you’re now rehearsing properly. Your subconscious mind requires evidence. That comes from experience. So the more you present the easier it will get. Add a few rehearsals each time, and your improvement will be rapid and lasting.