Many of us dream of presenting so flawlessly that the audience erupts in a standing ovation—but fears about forgetting a line or stumbling on stage can quickly dampen any excitement, Mark Bonchek and Mandy Gonzalez write for the Harvard Business Review.
But you don’t have to completely banish your presentation jitters to become a good public speaker, argue Bonchek, a business speaker, and Gonzalez, who stars in Broadway’s Hamilton. Even professional speakers like Bonchek and Broadway stars like Gonzalez experience butterflies before stepping on stage.
Pulling from their years of experience performing for live audiences, Bonchek and Gonzalez identify several steps leaders can take to dial down presentation anxiety.
Step 1: Prepare. To feel confident onstage, you need to know your material inside and out, write Bonchek and Gonzalez. Try practicing in front of friends who can simulate worst-case presentation scenarios and offer honest feedback, the authors suggest. And don’t forget to familiarize yourself with every detail of the conference room before your presentation.
Step 2: Stay practical. Some of your fears may be grounded in reality, while others are a product of an anxious imagination, write Bonchek and Gonzalez. For example, it’s possible that you may run out of time during your presentation, but less likely that an audience member will start booing. Try writing down each fear and evaluating how realistic they are, they recommend.
Step 3: Make it personal. To connect with your audience, share your personal experiences with the topic, write Bonchek and Gonzalez. If the audience isn’t invested in you and your story, they’re less likely to be interested in your words, they argue.
Step 4: Be present. It’s easy to get distracted by your worries mid-talk. If you find yourself feeling lost during a presentation, take a breath and refocus on a friendly face in the audience, suggest Bonchek and Gonzalez. You can also clear any mental fog before presentations by going for a run or doing hot yoga, adds Bonchek.
Step 5: Share your passion. Ultimately, you’re giving this presentation to share an insight or to inspire the audience, the authors write. If you approach the presentation as a chance to share your passion, you can focus less on fear and more on excitement, they note (Bonchek/Gonzalez, Harvard Business Review, 3/15).