How to Survive a Presentation

With self-consciousness on overdrive, people often completely stress-out about performing a presentation.  There are, however, some simple ‘dos and don’ts’ to follow, and some useful things to consider that may make the experience more enjoyable.   Yes, enjoyable.  Why not?

The overriding problem is the thought, ‘what will they think of me’.  It’s a tribally installed programme as old as the hills, designed to keep everyone low.  This can lead to secondary ‘stage fright’ or ‘fear of fainting’, but if you have your notes organised (in large print if you need to), then the former can be verbally soldiered through and overcome, and if the latter should happen, then trust that someone will pick you up!

The best advice I can give you sounds harsh but, get over yourself.  People haven’t come to see you, they have come to hear about the information you are going to give them.  If it were ‘all about you’ then you would be having an interview.  In any presentation, it is the material that people have come to look at and assess, and the bottom line is this, if you have spent time researching and organising your material well, then you have no need to be nervous.

Consider anyway, that your audience might also be the other presenters, waiting their turn.  And if so, they are unlikely to be paying full attention to you anyway, because they will most likely be distracted by their own anxieties. Anxiety is a normal and natural emotion that is greatly under-utilised and often misunderstood. Anxiety is an energy, learn how to convert it.  Athletes have learnt how to master the art of converting and employing the adrenalin-fuelled energy by channelling it consciously into their performance.

For anyone that is teetering on the precipice of a dreaded presentation, here are some simple, practical do’s and don’ts to ensure you are still breathing by lunchtime;

1.     Don’t wear tight clothing, you will feel trussed up, sweaty and worry about others noticing your emerging wet patches. Do organise your wardrobe a couple of nights before and leave it all on a hanger.  Looking smart gives others the impression you are under control.

2.    Don’t turn up late, or even, exactly on time.  If the presentation is that important, do get there early.  That way you will have time to locate the washrooms and give yourself a mini spruce over and calm down, before walking into the presentation.

3.    Don’t leave preparing the presentation to the night before. Do give yourself plenty of time to create a great visual presentation, using any supporting audio to account for all the different learning styles in your audience.

4.    Don’t use endless, boring pie charts, irrelevant statistics, overly high tech IT that could let you down, or words you can’t pronounce.  Do keep it fun, understandable, practical and clean, and design something that you would want to watch.

5.    Don’t care that much. Obviously, presentations are important, but they are only one of the tools in your skill set, that everyone has to work on and develop.

6.    Don’t spend hours and hours over preparing, do just bullet the points you want to make and decide in one slide, what is the best way to communicate that point.

7.    Don’t try and be perfect.  Audiences respond to realness and real people make mistakes all the time.  If the presentation fluffs up, do just joke about it.  It will break any tension in the room and enable you time, and humanness, to refocus and carry on.

8.    Don’t get your paperwork in a spin.  Do organise any handouts neatly in front of you and make a coloured note on your script when you intend handing them out.  That way you do not have to rely on your memory when your mind is already busy.

9.    Don’t lose your energy to the room. Do keep your focus on your material at all times.  Turning to point to a slide or referring the audience to their handout is a useful divert trick that lots of presenters use to take an energy breather.

10.   Don’t question or think about the presentation afterwards. Most of us could probably do better but beating yourself up doesn’t change time.  Do learn from anything and move forward.

11.   Don’t just finish the presentation and go back to work. This is the greatest opportunity for you to build self-esteem.  Do ALWAYS tell yourself ‘well done (insert your name here)’.  And then go treat yourself to a nice lunch, coffee break or small present on the way home. 

And lastly, remember, confident is something we only become after the event. 

Well done you.  Onwards.
Carole Sawo