Get Over Your Fear of Giving a Presentation

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”- Jerry Seinfeld

While the above quote is very funny, unfortunately for a lot of people, it’s also pretty accurate. I can remember as early as 5th grade, my fellow classmates telling me how much they feared having to get up in front of the class to give a presentation. Still to this day, full-grown adult professionals fear standing up in front of their colleagues to give a presentation just as much as they feared it in the 5th grade.

Fortunately, I’ve never had this fear. I’ve always enjoyed speaking in front of people and the bigger the audience, the more I can’t wait to take the stage. What’s my secret? Well, I know people have written entire books on how to deliver an effective presentation but I believe the tips I have listed below will give you a great start to feeling much more comfortable on stage.

1. Have a Script or Outline.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Ben Franklin

You can’t “wing it.” There is no way possible you can deliver an effective presentation if you don’t have your ideas and main points written down. By writing down the main points you want to get across, you’ll ensure each one gets covered and explained effectively to your audience. I’m not going to go into great detail about how to write a script or outline (there are many great online resources and publications available), but I do want to stress that you NEED to have one.

2. Practice, Practice, Practice.
“The key is not the will to win…everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.”- Bobby Knight, Hall of Fame Coach

To give an effective presentation, you need to practice. This goes for almost everything you do in life. There’s no way to get better at something unless you practice. Start out by reading your script or outline aloud to yourself. If you know you’re going to be behind a lectern, practice behind one. If you’re going to have a PowerPoint clicker in your hand, practice giving your presentation with something in your hand. You want to replicate your conditions as well as you can. Once you feel like you have it down, present it to a few people or a friend. Not only will performing in front of a friend or group of friends give you some more practice, they’ll also be able to give you feedback.

3. NO ‘Death by PowerPoint’
“Using PowerPoint is like having a loaded AK-47 on the table: You can do very bad things with it.”- Peter Norvig, Director of Research, Google

I know it’s happened to call of us; someone gives a presentation and all they do is read the PowerPoint slides to us or we spend way too much valuable time waiting for little useless animations to fly across the slides. Don’t be one of these presenters. It’s OK to use PowerPoint but don’t use it as a crutch; instead, use it to strengthen your presentation. Again, there are many great resources on how to use PowerPoint effectively, so do some research. But for now, I’ll offer this advice: use the least amount of text possible per slide, stay away from the animation “tricks,” make sure they are easy to read, and keep the audience focused on you and NOT the slides.

4. Break the Ice
“Most experts suggest that one should open with a joke. Obviously, they’ve never heard me tell a joke.”- Anonymous

While you don’t have to tell a joke, it’s my belief that you should “break the ice” to get the audience on your side and get their attention. If you’re good at telling jokes, by all means tell (an appropriate) one. However, if you don’t feel that you’re funny use a line that makes you relatable to your audience. Something like “With your help, I’m going to get this presentation finished a few minutes early so we can get out of here in time to enjoy the beautiful weather.” Though that’s just an example, make sure whatever line you use, you keep it positive. Don’t mention how terrible the traffic was getting there because it will immediately bring unpleasant thoughts back into everyone’s minds.

5. You’re the Expert
“I don’t want to be patronizing…that means “talking down.”"- Wendy Morgan

You’re the presenter because you know more about the topic than anyone else in the room. This makes you an expert. Doesn’t it sound much better to think of yourself as the expert than just ‘a presenter’? The truth is people are there not only to hear what you have to say but to learn. If you’ve taken the time and put in the practice you’ll give an effective presentation and be acknowledged as the expert you are.

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