You have less than 30 seconds interacting with others before they have formed a solid opinion about you - and that those 30 seconds may well be nothing to do with your time on stage. This fact may instil fear in you; however, this can be channelled and become a positive aspect of your presenting, as opposed to negatively limiting your ability.
Top tip: Take a look at TV programmes such as Dragon’s Den and you’ll see fear in many of the contestants pitching for investment. Make a list of the things that signal a person is fearful. This helps you recognise the factors more easily and more efficiently commit them to memory. As well as making a list of the factors that indicate somebody is fearful, study confident people and compare their individual actions with what’s on your list. Now, using a mirror or a partner, adopt a fearful posture and then switch to feeling confident, now switch back again. Spend a few minutes moving between these two states so that you can turn each on and off like a switch.
You need to think beyond those precious minutes when you are delivering your key messages from the stage, because you may not be aware that persona (the perception the audience has of you) directly influences their level of engagement with the presentation. To the majority of presenters, their presentation begins the moment they stand on stage and either speak the first word or when their introduction screen appears. This presents an opportunity to significantly improve your presentation skills by doing very little really.
To begin with, turn the tables, metaphorically, and identify the window of opportunity that your audience has to present themselves to you, because in actual fact, your presentation should start when you and your audience first meet and end when you go your separate ways. So all of a sudden, the carefully timed 30 minute presentation is often only a part of a longer, overall encounter.
Top tip: Judge the general mood of the gathering over a relaxed coffee or text and email break. Another trick you can employ is to canvas audience opinion of any previous presentations, to discover the sort of thing that is liked and disliked by that gathering.
Paint the picture
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and so the ‘picture’ you first present says much about you to the audience you are meeting.
Are you dressed appropriately, and anyway, what is the appropriate dress for the meeting or occasion? And what about grooming? For the most part clean and tidy appearance is appropriate for most business and social occasions. A good haircut or shave combined with clean and tidy clothes and neat and tidy make up. This is one of the best things you can do for your self-confidence and to help make you feel the part.
Top tip: Ask yourself whether your appearance is saying the right things to help create the right first impression? Go beyond your presentation and consider yourself part of it. The key to a good presentation is in part to present yourself appropriately.
Mirror the behaviour of naturals
One of the best ways to discover the do’s and don’ts of good presentation is to learn from others. Although a lot of great presenting is learnt from practice, practice and more practice, using ‘mirror neurons’ in the brain can greatly aid your performance. A mirror neuron is one that fires (sends or receives impulses) when a person acts while they are observing the same action being performed by another. Thus, the neuron ‘mirrors’ the behaviour of the other, so we learn and hardwire our brains partly by copying the actions of others and by doing so develop and embed new neural pathways.
Top tip: There are some great resources out there, such as YouTube, which can provide some examples of great presenting that you can mirror, providing a shortcut to presenting excellence. As you sit and watch another (good) presenter, imagine that it is you up there on the stage. As you do, start to become aware of how you are feeling: notice how your physiology is becoming more upright, proud, and in actual fact, that of a person exuding confidence. As you go through this process, you’ll be actually training your own brain to work and in some ways think like that of an excellent presenter.
The above are just some of the tactics you can employ to give yourself more confidence to make a great presentation. The next challenge is to ensure your presentation content doesn’t let you down – but that’s another story...