Published in The Tennessean July 13, 2015
By Ed Rappuhn – SCORE Nashville
“I enjoy meeting with prospects and customers one-on-one and have been successful growing my business this way. Now I’ve been asked to do a presentation in front of 30 people and I’m a wreck. Any ideas?”
First of all, you’re not alone! To paraphrase the great philosopher Jerry Seinfeld, “People’s number one fear is public speaking; number two is death. This means that at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Let’s look at a few ways to minimize your nerves.
Prepare ahead of time. Practice what you plan to say in front of a mirror and on a video. Watch the video to find areas for improvement, and then repeat. With practice, you also measure your material. You don’t want to finish a twenty-minute presentation in ten minutes, or even worse, thirty!
Use different tones of voice and vary your volume. Say important things quietly to grab attention; just make sure you can be heard.
Don’t speak too fast. Nervousness will cause you to speed up your delivery, so practice your pace. When you speak too fast, people expend all their energy trying to keep up and are exhausted by the end of your talk – so slow down! Also, a five-second pause before making a point will refocus your audience’s attention.
Look at the audience. Don’t focus on one or two individuals; make eye contact with several people all around the room. Use notes as reminders of key points, but don’t read or memorize your presentation.
Use bullet points. If you use PowerPoint or other presentation tools, use short bullet points with graphics or pictures on the slides. Pictures make the presentation more thought provoking. Never read slides verbatim.
Engage the audience. Ask questions to keep them involved. Request a show of hands or possibly a verbal response. If possible, U-shaped seating is better than classroom style when looking for participation. Move around rather than standing in one place to keep the participants active.
Anticipate questions and prepare answers ahead of time. If you can’t answer a question, promise a response once you’ve had a chance to find the answer – then follow-up with the answers when you thank them for attending. Make sure you have contact information for the attendees.
Something I find useful in minimizing nervousness is the knowledge that I know my subject as well as, or better than, my audience. A preacher who confidently mispronounces a Biblical name is rarely challenged.
Consider joining Toastmasters or a similar group to help improve your speaking skills. Nerves might never totally disappear, but with practice, you can certainly control them. Eventually you might even look forward to such opportunities. Speaking in front of groups raises your credibility and helps grow your business.
Ed Rappuhn is a mentor, workshop facilitator, and the past-chair of SCORE Nashville. SCORE mentors guide entrepreneurs in starting and growing their businesses. Sign up for a free SCORE mentor, find out about our reasonably priced workshops and other services, or volunteer to become a SCORE member at www.scorenashville.org .