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11 Steps To Stop Stressing About Public Presentations.

Updated on August 21st, 2023

October 31st 2022

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This text was fully written by humans.

SUMMARY / KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Stressing about public presentations is an atavism deeply rooted in human history and tribal culture. However, this fear may be overcome! There are no bad presenters, there are only untrained ones.

  • In this article, we give a number of tips for how to successfully stop stressing out by public presentations and start enjoying them instead.

Why Do We Stress About Public Presentations?

The ability to give clear and constructive presentations is important for our careers for a number of reasons. As a good presenter, you not only get your message across, but also build professional relationships: teach, inspire, and build trust with people. After a strong presentation, not only will the attendants remember your message; they will also remember you.

However, many professionals fear public presentations more than they fear death. The first, infamous study on this phenomenon was conducted in 1973 by R. H. Bruskin Associates and recently confirmed by follow-up studies

The fear of public attention affects the vast majority of us, including famous Hollywood stars such as or Bruce Willis or Julia Roberts or world leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln. 

It is an atavism deeply rooted in human history and tribal culture. In the old days, standing in front of a crowd usually meant public punishment or even risk of death. But hey, the times have changed — today, public presentations and the crowd’s attention usually mean professional success! 

In this article, we give a number of tips for how to successfully stop stressing out by public presentations and start enjoying them instead.

1. Start With Why.

The first tip can sound quite trivial. As famously pointed out by Simon Sinek, the best motivation to pursue your goals and get over any bottlenecks in your career or your business stems from your personal mission. 

One public presentation is only one little step forward toward your ultimate, long-term goals. Think about your goals in the perspective of ten or twenty years. 

Even in the worst scenario — if the presentation turns out too be less successful than you planned and you experience some hiccup as a consequence — can it really stop you from achieving your goals in the long run? Probably not. If you know your destination, you can find multiple ways to get there, not just one.

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2. Learn Something New.

While preparing for presentations, we typically ask ourselves, “What can I teach the audience?” or “What can the audience gain from my presentation?” And what about YOU? Why don’t you try to get something for yourself out of your own presentation?

It’s good to choose a topic that will allow you to learn something during your preparations for the presentation. Even if it is just one slide, it will make the process of preparation much more interesting and make you feel that you benefit and go one step forward in your professional life no matter what happens during your talk.

You can learn more about boosting your productivity by learning something new, this time in the context of writing, in the article “How To Become a Prolific Writer? The 50% Rule.”

3. Focus On The Message.

…behind what you are planning to say instead of the precise wording

Many people make the effort to write the precise script of the whole presentation and then try to memorize the text word by word. But this rarely results in a smooth talk. As a rule of thumb, it works much better if you memorize the message that you wish to come across than the whole lyrics of the presentation.

However, to avoid getting stuck and the “white wall” effect at the beginning of your presentation, you can remember the very first sentence. This is a technique used by American stand-up comedians — they memorize the sequence of the jokes and the first sentence of each joke.

4. Think About Your Audience While Preparing Your Talk.

Are your audience members experts in your topic? One of the common mistakes made by presenters is over- or undervaluing the knowledge of their audience. 

Ask yourself before the talk: what is my relation with the audience? Are they experts whom I need to impress? Or, are they junior professionals whom I need to teach? Or perhaps, are they passionate about the topic? Will I be evaluated for this presentation and if so, will I be graded for my knowledge or for my bare presentation skills?

Also, interact with the audience! Look at the participants of your talk, and make sure that they are engaged in the presentation. This can sound scary but comes with experience.

If you feel like you are not a natural entertainer, you could prepare an attention grabber to break the ice at the beginning of the talk. It might be, as an example, a rhetorical question. For instance, if you talk about living at the International Space Station on orbit, you could ask “Have you ever chased after your food around your room?”

Furthermore, think about effective ways of capturing and holding the audience’s attention – especially when you are, say, giving an online lecture and it’s Friday afternoon? It is worth considering the following:

  • Choose an important topic and underscore in the beginning of the lecture why it’s so important. At the end of the day, if your presentation speaks to the most fundamental human needs, you will earn attention by default.
  • Change the tone multiple times and include anecdotes from pop culture. The worst you can do is to keep a steady pace of the presentation and make it overly academic – sneezing participants guaranteed.
  • Engage the audience: include quizzes and ask open questions. Nothing helps human memory better incorporate new information than the startle effect of being wrong.
  • Be yourself. If you have new thoughts while talking, why not make a digression and say it? Even if it leads to the weird effect of speaking to yourself, it will be interesting to both you and the audience. I learned over the years that speaking to myself gives much better results than trying to suppress any new ideas that come to mind during a talk.
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5. Don’t Stress Too Much About Your Looks.

Many presenters fixate too much about their looks. But, the presentation is not about yourself — people pay much less attention to how you look than you might think, and focus on their own benefit from your talk instead. Your smiling face is enough to elicit good emotions in the audience!

So, you don’t need to look like a Hollywood star! Just look at the popular Youtube channels: some of the most popular Youtubers are not physically appealing but rather average and “relatable.” That doesn’t stop them from getting millions of fans and followers, because their content is strong and consistent. 

However, it is good to make sure that before your talk, you do not need to worry about your outfit. Make sure to prepare it beforehand and try it on. 

Perhaps, you can prepare a “uniform” — your standard outfit for presentations that is well-tested “in action,” and both comfortable and elegant at the same time. This will ensure that you never need to stress out in front of the mirror before the talk.

6. Inject Your Personality Into Your Presentation If Possible.

Of course, this piece of advice is not always applicable. In particular, it does not apply to job interviews where the tone is usually formal. But in most circumstances, it is welcome to bring your personality to the table. Once you start your presentation, you need to own the stage and invite others to your world. 

So, be yourself! Use your sense of humor. Embrace the situation so that the content is truly “yours.” Even if it’s just a technical presentation about a discipline that you didn’t conceptualize or contribute to all by yourself, the jokes and colorful illustrations to help the audience understand the topic will be yours! 

Today, the style and the working cultures mix together. Even in traditionally “stuff” corporate settings and academia, a sense of humor is more and more desired, to “warm up your image” and build the team culture. 

Moreover, remember that there is more than just one way of being charismatic. Introverts can also be charismatic, just in a different way than extraverts. You don’t need to be the funniest and the most outspoken person in the world to leave the audience with the feeling that they just attended an interesting and memorable talk. 

You can, for instance, think of original, unexpected parallels and metaphors while explaining some complex subject that will help the audience better understand and memorize the content. 

Or, display a quiz during the talk and get your presentation participants engaged in your talk. 

Or, activate your audience by asking an intriguing open question during your presentation. None of these actions requires being an extrovert.

7. Learn Some Tricks Beforehand To Tackle The Questions From The Audience.

First of all, questions from the audience are a GOOD thing. Getting questions means that the audience is engaged in your talk, finds it interesting, and tries to make the best out of the experience. Of course, once in a while you will get a stupid question but try to be understanding. EVERY question is good news. Give every questioner a feeling that their attention and questions are welcome. 

Once you get a question, make eye contact with the questioner and thank them for the question. It will also give you extra time for planning the answer in your mind.

So, there is no problem once you know the answer to the question right off the bat. But, even if you are perfectly prepared, it might so happen that you won’t know the answer to every single question that you receive. It is a perfectly normal situation. In that case, it is good to be prepared and have some phrases at hand that you can throw. 

If it is a formal presentation, such as a job interview, it is obviously better if you give a formal response such as “Unfortunately, this question falls beyond my competencies at the moment, but I am planning to learn this subject-matter within the incoming 12 months.” 

It would also be a good addition if you can explain WHY you don’t know the answer. For instance, you could say: “In my projects so far, I was focused on developing and implementing method A, this is why my expertise is more related to method A than method B at the moment.”

If this is an informal presentation — for instance, when you are presenting a progress report to your colleagues from a team that you have known for years — then instead of explaining why you don’t know the answer, you can just tell them who knows. For instance, you could say: “Unfortunately, I don’t know this one, but if you ask Jane from office 321, she will know for sure.”

8. Practice, Practice, Practice!

Arnold Schwarzenegger practiced his inaugural speech as the Governor of California 67 times! He knew that he was not a native and with his strong Austrian accent, he would need more preparation than other politicians to give an influential and memorable speech. And despite his busy schedule, he still found time for it! If Arnie could do it, you can do too. 

Of course, it is best to practice by giving a trial run to other people: family, friends, or colleagues. In practice, we often don’t have anyone suitable at hand. In that case, you can use the “rubber duck” strategy: choose an object to talk to (the proverbial rubber duck) and literally talk to it as if it was representing your participant.

Practicing will allow you to get more fluency in printing your material and will also prevent you from making the most common mistake among speakers, which is overloading your presentation with content. You need to have enough space so that you don’t need to rush through the material. It will save you lots of nerves. 

Lastly, if you still feel frozen at the bare thought of your public presentation coming up, it is worth thinking of some class of public speaking. If you do not wish  to spend any funds on the class, you can learn and practice by following YouTube channels such as Charisma on Command or Communication Coach Alexander Lyon

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9. Do The Reality Check.

Stupid people tend to feel wiser if they learn something new (for instance, new content for a presentation). However, intelligent people tend to feel dumb in such situations. Namely, while learning something new, they notice how many things they still don’t know and fixate on the thought: “Damn, I know nothing!” 

But think realistically about your audience. The truth is, after your preparation time, YOU are the expert. Even If you don’t know everything about the subject-matter, you certainly know things that your audience doesn’t know, due to your diligent preparations. So, focus on what you know and what you wish to teach your audience, instead of stressing about the limits of your knowledge.

10. Start Valuing Your Time.

Healing from presentation-related stress has lots to do with respecting your time. If you are shy, you can think to yourself: “If I convey my message to 10 people, I waste 90% of my time compared to the situation when I speak to 100 people – as I would need to do the same 10 times to reach the same effect. Why not talk to 100 people then?” Yes, your time is valuable!

For more advice on time management, please check our articles “Top 11 Rules For Productivity in the Office. How To Become the Top Performer as a White-Collar Employee?” and “Top 13 Productivity Tips For Remote Workers.”

11. Trust Your Manager.

Remember that for a good manager, your effort is more important than the outcome of your talk. If your manager is skilled in handling teams, they will notice and appreciate the diligence transpiring through your talk, and your personal progress, despite possible hiccups. So, trust your manager! They got the job for a reason.

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Conclusions: How To Stop Stressing About Public Presentations?

There are no bad presenters, there are only untrained ones. Your stress is natural and comes from atavistic fear and public punishment. Getting over this natural fear is hard for all of us. 

Remember also that sometimes, the audience is just BAD. Sometimes, you bump into an entitled person who is not happy with any response to any question. 

Sometimes, you bump into a type of an activist: someone who sniffs for any, real or imaginary, signs of discrimination toward any group, and who feels like “they need to show you.” Sometimes, you have audience members who are jealous of you, complexed, or just plain dumb. What can you do! 

This is why you shouldn’t approach any public presentation as if it was your “to be or not to be.” You are responsible for your work, not for its outcomes. 

Remember to reward yourself for any presentation you gave, even if it was just ice cream or a movie. Every single presentation brings you one step further in your career and you fully deserve your reward. Best of luck in your endeavors as a speaker!

Lastly, confidence is not competence. At the end of the day, giving a talk on a topic you are an expert at will leave a strong impression even if it’s clear that you are an inexperienced speaker. So, stay positive and proficiency at public speaking will come with time!

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Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2022, October 31st). 11 Steps To Stop Stressing About Public Presentations. Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/11-steps-to-stop-stressing-about-public-presentations/

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