At some point in the life of every student they will have to give a presentation or do some form of public speaking. Unfortunately, many of us struggle with this, whether it be through lack of confidence, shyness or just an irrational fear. So how do we overcome this obstacle to stand up in front of a room full of people and talk to them?
For me, the problem stemmed from being the only English girl in a room full of Spaniards. That irrational fear of saying the wrong thing and coming across like an idiot nagged at me for years and unfortunately for me it affected my ability to speak in public. The stupid thing is being an irrantional fear, it was just that – irrational! I knew that this room full of mature adults weren’t going to judge someone who was giving a presentation in her second language, I knew that they would understand if I slipped up, but I couldn’t silence that voice in the back of my head telling me to be scared.
So I started to do some research and found that there was a whole community of people who struggled with the same thing. They offered tips and advice on how to overcome this fear. Here are the ones I found most effective:
- Know the room – nervousness can often be a result of too much unknown. If the option is available to you, take the time to rehearse in the area where you are going to do your presentation. Focus on the little things, where you’re going to stand, what visual aids are you going to use, what body movements make you look confident, etc. Go over your presentation several times in the space until it becomes second nature. It’s just one less thing to worry about on the day.
- Don’t focus on the whole group – the feeling that you are along in front of an entire group of people can often be the main problem, so don’t look at everyone at once! This tip may seem a bit bizarre, but it’s so much easier to be confident if you’re focusing and talking to just one person. Obviously I’m not suggesting that you stare at a singular person for the entire presentation, because that might just creep them out a bit, but only focus on one person at a time. Alternatively, you can try to blur the group out. One of the first presentations I gave where I wasn’t nervous, was the time I left my glasses at home. Hilarious, I know, but the room full of people became just blurry enough to help me forget that they were even there!
- Don’t call attention to your nervousness – unless you’re physically shaking, it’s not often obvious to everyone when someone is tense. By apologising for being nervous or when you slip up, you’re just drawing attention to something that a group may not have even noticed. This also affects how people rate your speech, because if you apologise for being nervous at the start, even if you then get through your presentation with confidence, people will already have catogorised you as the anxious type.
- Experience – confidence in your own capabilities is half the battle, so try finding somewhere to practise your public speaking until you feel like a pro. For me, the solution was to find a summer job where I would have to speak to large groups every day, all day. After three months of public speaking, I found that doing a presentation in front of a group of people didn’t seem that scary. If this option isn’t available to you, you could always try debate groups, Toastmasters club or other groups where public speaking makes up a large percentage of activities.
- Relax both physically and mentally – try breathing exercises just before your presentation and imagine yourself talking to people with confidence. Will yourself to succeed and understand that other people also want you to do well. People don’t do anything without a reason; if a group of people have come to listen to you speak, it’s because they want to hear what YOU have to say. They haven’t come to humiliate you or point out your faults. Tell yourself you can do this and focus on that throughout your speech.
Now I’m not saying that I don’t still get a bit nervous before a presentation, but after following these tips, I’ve improved ten fold. Plus it’s always good to be a little nervous, no one likes an over-confident arse!