I have been asked, on more than one occasion why I wrote “Even You Can Present with Confidence”. Well, I’ve coached presentation skills long enough to understand that if more people knowwhat they need to do in order to be able to speak easily and with self assurance to an audience, then so many more of us would be doing it, and doing it well. And frankly, I’d far rather listen to a person giving a good account of themselves to an audience than making a hash of things, wouldn’t you?
*** feature article – an excerpt from “Even You Can PRESENT WITH CONFIDENCE” ***
Confidence is gained by having positive experiences, because positive experiences provide hard evidence that you can in fact do what you’d felt you couldn’t do. When your belief system changes your outcomes change. But you can’t gain these positive experiences without putting yourself out there. This means you need to pluck up your courage, make that vital decision and grab presenting opportunities that come your way.
Once you have a good grasp of the basic techniques of presentation, start rehearsing with small groups, practising on one or two friends if you like – people who you know are on your side. But do it! When friends or colleagues respond positively, your confidence will grow. Ask for feedback, what worked and what didn’t work for them. If they are critical, remember that they are criticising your technique, not you as a person. Then try again. The more you keep at it the more you’ll improve and the easier it will seem. When you feel ready, grab those presenting opportunities at work.
As confidence grows, you can challenge yourself to get better – try new things! Watch other presenters critically, identifying the things you liked and things you didn’t – what was convincing and whether or not you trust this person enough to buy from them. As your skills build and your confidence increases, so will your self-belief. When you stand up to deliver a presentation with no doubt about your ability to be compelling, your audience will feel the same.
In some, this happens quickly, in others it takes a little longer. But through patience, practice and perseverance you will get it right. It is important to understand that one’s initial botched attempts are completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean you are a failure; it just means you still have to hone your skills. Many of today’s best speakers progressed slowly at first, but through perseverance and experience achieved increasing degrees of competence. The tragedy is that so many give up without giving themselves a sporting chance.
It’s very important to understand that you are allowed to be you – in fact this is the best person you can possibly be – at all times. This is the first and most vital truth you need to accept. You are allowed to be yourself when presenting. In my experience, the speakers who affect me most strongly are those who are simply themselves and speak from the heart, as one person sharing what they have to say with other persons, whereas those who are obviously performing do not come across as authentic and leave me with a question mark.
Of course, it is easy to be yourself when you’re chatting to your friends. Standing up to present is an entirely different and infinitely more complex set of actions, often with more significant consequences!
The irony is that most people instinctively perform the actions necessary to present when involved in informal dialogue with others, but lose it when they find themselves in front of a “formal” audience. Take the office joker, for example: You’re at a social gathering. Harry’s in the mood and the subject is football, which he knows plenty about. Harry launches into an animated description of a match he watched of how a goalkeeper managed to miss a back pass, resulting in an embarrassing faux pax. Everyone roars with laughter. You see, Harry was telling a story of something that actually happened on a subject with which he was familiar. It was true to life, perhaps with a few embellishments, but it worked! The reward was the laugh he received. But put an untrained Harry in front of an audience with a brief to present his company’s product to a potential buyer and it’s as if you have an alien from another planet, someone very different from the confident, joking Harry having a beer with his friends.
Why? It’s quite simple really: speaking conversationally with friends is natural and feels familiar; because a presentation is staged it feels unnatural. So instead of being ourselves we try to be what we think we need to be, when being ourselves will usually do just fine, thanks!
Most people play themselves very well indeed, but only actors, and good ones at that, succeed in playing other people convincingly. So, either we need to learn to act, or we need to learn to be ourselves in unnatural situations.
This encapsulates the art of learning to present. We need to learn to be comfortable being ourselves “on stage”.