May 29, 2019

Curing the Presentation Jitters © Cici Mattiuzzi

Giving effective presentations is essential to the career success of many, if not most, people in professional careers. Twice, in the recent past, extremely talented professionals at fairly high levels told me they are nervous about public speaking. They wanted to know if I have any advice to share.

One person told me that he would rather "wrestle a rattlesnake" than give a presentation. And yet his next career move requires being able to stand in front of large groups of people to share his expertise. I definitely did not see this one coming. He is a seasoned professional with a very high level of education and years of experience. And yet he hates public speaking.

The other person told me that he had been in computer rooms for so many years he was not sure of his ability to speak in front of audiences or even in meetings. He is also moving up and the skill is essential.

I’d like to say it is a guy thing - but it is not. Everyone gets nervous in the first moments after the introduction. No one is born comfortable standing up and giving a presentation or a speech. It is not something that is ingrained.

I am very self-conscious - I worry about everything. I worry about traffic and parking and being late. When I arrive I worry if I am in the right place- especially if I have not been there before or met the people who asked me to speak. I worry if I will be able to engage the audience or if they are just there because they have to be, as with my classes on the first day. I worry if my PowerPoint will work. I worry if I look right – I wonder if guys worry about that...

I walk into a room and stare out at a sea of faces and wonder what I could possibly say that is of interest. Especially when the room is full of techies. I worry I may not be able to speak their language.

And then I start...

Like riding a bicycle… the more you do it the better you get. Practice improves your balance in both. You can improve your confidence by doing.

I am used to assessing people’s presentation skills. It starts with the initial introduction either on the phone or in person. We get a sense of a person not only by what they say but also by how they say it.

The more you present the more comfortable you will become.

This is more about confidence. You have excellent communication skills. Own it!

Tips - from my experience… I have spoken to large and very large and small groups… I always get a bit nervous until I start talking about what I am passionate about. I do not to accept engagements if I don’t know anything about the topic… or I steer the request to what I think is relevant and that I have confidence I can speak about.
  1. Be prepared - you know your stuff but organize your thoughts into an outline of what you want to say; Keep it simple so you don’t overwhelm yourself or your audience; especially if you only have a short period of time.
  2. If it is relevant create a simple - easily understandable PowerPoint. Some companies even ask you to do this in an interview to test your presentation skills before they hire you.
  3. Find the person in the room who you feel is engaged and interested - the open face that feels like an old friend… pretend your conversation is with them alone… Most people are not as uncomfortable speaking to one person as they are speaking to a group... (If you are really anxious about public speaking Toastmasters is a great first step in the quest to improve your presentation skills).
  4. During your presentation scan the room back and forth – a gentle movement - from time to time to make sure everyone is included.
  5. Remember you are the expert - people really want to hear what you have to say.
  6. Let people engage you with questions. If you don’t know the answer, ask if anyone in the room wants to share… No one knows everything…
  7. Expect you will encounter the occasional jerk - try to defuse them - don’t engage, don’t argue - acknowledge them and move on.
Most importantly - remember - you got this… You will do fine!