Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Perfectionism and Nerves

A lot of nervous presenters I have worked with have a common problem of being perfectionists. Everything must be just so, to the point you might be escalating your nervous reactions.  For example, perhaps you check and change your visuals multiple times, you wordsmith and agonize over minor details. You script and re-script your presentation.   

If you can relate to this, experiment with changing your approach in a low risk meeting.
Below is some advice on trying this:

1.    For a typical business or client meeting, avoid scripting then memorizing your entire presentation. Scripting is ideal for speeches and lectures that do not involve audience interaction.

2.    However, it is critical that you understand the REASON you are presenting the information and why it is important to your audience or clients. This will give you the ability to articulate your ideas better as well as think on your feet.  If you are presenting someone else’s information, and a slide doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, ask them for their thought process.

3.    Do rehearse and memorize key ideas, but try a more “off the cuff” approach for the talking points around the key messages.  Make sure you rehearse this way. Rehearsal will show you what content you need to memorize and what components can be more  extemporaneous.  Do not try this for the first time without rehearsing in front of your clients.

The result in changing your approach this way can help in making the presentation feel more like a conversation to you and your audience.  Most presenters that use this technique become more engaging and genuine in their delivery.  And it can reduce the feelings of nervousness, because it changes the experience from delivering a presentation to having a conversation.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rehearsal Tips for Nervous Presenters

If you are a nervous presenter, the idea of rehearsal might make you feel even worse.  You might procrastinate when it comes to rehearsing, or avoid it altogether.  

For those who avoid rehearsal:  If you think about why you get nervous, it is often about losing control over something:  your voice waivers, you forget a key point, your hands shake, you turn red in the face, you blank out, etc.  Rehearsal is about practicing ways to gain physical control to improve your delivery.   It is not about saying words repeatedly or memorizing scripts.  For example, if your voice fades after slide 4, it’s good to know this ahead of time. Then you can practice a phrase or do something as a reminder to speak up at that point.   

If you procrastinate, recognize that the longer you put off rehearsal, the more you are feeding a monster that will keep getting bigger until you rehearse, or finish the presentation.  Negative thoughts tend to snowball if left unchecked.  You have to take some sort of action in order to break away from this mental pattern. Otherwise the nervous reaction will just continue to grow.

If you feel like you don’t have time … you can often create time by staying up later or getting up earlier than the rest of the team to rehearse your portion of the presentation.  You do have the benefit of the energy of the nerves so you won’t be too tired during the presentation!   This is one advantage of being a bit nervous – energy! Put that energy to constructive use instead of worrying.

Most people tell me they run out of time because they are still working on the presentation up to the 9th hour.  No one in the audience will ever remember that that one word or graphic you fussed over or the 50th change to the presentation, but they do remember the overall impression.   That’s why in our pitch consulting practice, we always recommend a “pencils down” deadline to create time for rehearsal.

If the team is not ready – you can always rehearse your section alone.  As a nervous presenter you should be rehearsing alone in any case.  It will build your confidence and improve your delivery.  Then when you rehearse with the team, you won’t be the biggest problem in the room.  I am sure the last thing you want is to have an entire team focusing  a lot of attention on your delivery, so prepare well and deliver during team rehearsal as if you in front of your client.  Don’t phone it in.

Finally, you may think that the best presenters simply have a natural talent for speaking.  But most of them got to that point by working at it.  If you ask them, you’ll find most of them will say they still rehearse.