Tackling the fear of presenting

Oct 19 2009 by Janet Howd Print This Article

As I write this piece about ways to tackle the fear of presenting, smiling is making headline news. Apparently a smile has become the 'must have' component of the latest life-style fashion trend called Mood Mapping: so much so, that even Victoria Beckham has taken to flashing her teeth at the camera.

But, always ahead of the trend, Management-Issues carried an article about the value of SMILING as a self regulatory mechanism way back in June 2007.

"If you wish to communicate well with people, the expression which will benefit you most - and which I would urge you have at your beck and call at all times - is the smile.

A genuine smile, that is, (not just a Cheshire cat grin) for a smile that radiates from the eyes triggers neurotransmitters in the brain to induce a chemically charged 'high' with no downside.

The prospect of dialogue with colleagues will never have seemed so rosy for, as a genuine smile lifts and enlivens the face, it lifts and enlivens the spaces behind the face where the tongue and other muscles which resonate, and pitch the voice are to be found. It also causes a small, involuntary intake of breath thus adding oxygen to the energising mix.

Light up your eyes often. For the feel-good-factor that facial expression emits will open channels of communication even where impasse seems inevitable."

Remember. You read it here first!

Now to a few other ways of allaying fear and keeping control when delivering a presentation. But first I must remind you that how you feel before or during a presentation should never be foisted onto an audience.

The main problem is that fear isolates and when victims are really in its grip it is impossible for them even to see other people, never mind think about how those people are feeling.

Presenters must get beyond that state well before they stand in front of an audience. They can then express their ideas clearly, with no emotional blackmail, leaving listeners free to decide whether or not to accept their argument.

Scenario planning is a genuinely helpful way to attain this ideal. Have an imaginary audience in front of you from the moment you begin to set out your ideas and especially once you begin to rehearse( which you must!) using scripts and slides, pens and pointers.

In that imaginary audience make sure there are always a few good colleagues and friends seated in the centre and towards the back. Their calming presence will help you to choose your words well and speak with a tone and volume of voice that will carry easily to their ears.

Their being there will also modify the pace at which you dole out your information and help you to decide when and where pauses should be placed.

Yes, pauses - moments of silence (designed to bring calm not to induce fear) - should always be rehearsed into a presentation.

For one thing, pausing helps clean the palate so that words can be articulated more clearly. Pause also alerts listeners to the fact that a new idea is about to be mentioned or a change of mood is about to take place.

They also allow room for manoeuvre: space to add touches of relevant humour that lighten a serious load or sharpen a point of contention.

Unfortunately, these days, competition from hand held devices nudging audience members to take notice of texts and e-mails - most of which have nothing to do with what we are saying – can subvert our best pauses and seriously scupper our attempts to remain calm and in control.

Well…. if you can't beat them, join them.

Get hold in advance of the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of all likely participants and send both a text and an E-mail to each hand-held just as your session is about to begin.

Make sure that your message is pithy and requires them to do something - e.g. noting down on paper (that you make sure is at hand) and placing in a hat (that you produce with a flourish) what value they hope your presentation will add to their lives. It's difficult to text or even pick up a device if you've got paper, pen and headgear to deal with.

Once an audience is hooked, keep calm and carry on.

Oh, and as they leave, buzz them again so that when they look down they find the key points of your presentation easily to hand.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.