Does the idea of giving an important speech or presentation make you nervous?
You would not be alone. Most people feel anxious about standing on a stage in front of a large audience. Here are some tips to help you prepare for and handle the big occasion.
Focus on the one central message you want to get across. If you wanted the audience to remember just one sentence from your talk what would it be? Concentrate on that and make the start, middle and end support and build that message.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. In particular practise and memorise your opening and closing lines. You can refer to notes as prompts for all the rest but it is important that you look the audience in the eye at the beginning and the end.
Do not load up PowerPoint Slides with lots of data. You might think it will help but it won’t. If the audience is reading your slides then they are not listening to you. Use PowerPoint to illustrate points and to reinforce key messages – but not to convey detailed text.
Before you go on stage, breathe deeply to help you calm down.
Stride purposely onto the stage. Stand tall. Fake confidence with confident body language.
Wait until everyone is silent and watching you.
Start with a bang. An amazing fact. A personal story. A provocative question or a remarkable quote. Something with real impact which grabs their attention. Never start with an apology or a mumbled statement about how pleased you are to be there.
Speak slowly and with enthusiasm. Many nervous speakers rush and garble their talk so slow down a little and look up at the audience.
Pause before a major point.
Remember that the audience wants you to succeed; they are on your side. No-one wants you to give a poor talk. They want to hear something interesting, relevant and useful – so give it to them.
Conclude with a clear confident restatement of your key point or call to action. Smile and accept any applause. Do not rush off the stage; savour the moment.
And one final important tip. Don’t think of yourself as nervous. Think of yourself as excited to have this great opportunity.
Paul is a professional keynote conference speaker and expert facilitator on innovation and lateral thinking. He helps companies improve idea generation and creative leadership. His workshops transform innovation leadership skills and generate great ideas for business issues. His recent clients include Airbus, Microsoft, Unilever, Nike, Novartis and Swarovski. He has published 30 books on lateral thinking puzzles, innovation, leadership and problem solving (with over 2 million copies sold). He also acts as link presenter at conferences and facilitator at high level meetings such as a corporate advisory board. He has acted as host or MC at Awards Dinners. Previously, he was CEO of Monactive, VP International of MathSoft and UK MD of Ashton-Tate. He recently launched a series of podcast interviews entitled Insights from Successful People.