Presentations, that’s speaking in front of an audience, as we all know, are one of the biggest sources of stress that many of us encounter in our working lives, and which turn perfectly confident, intelligent people into, sweaty-palmed, red-faced, gibbering wrecks.
We all know the feeling, when the stomach starts churning, the legs turn to jelly and the voice ends up as a grating croak in our dry throats – the eyes glaze-over and the audience become a blur in front of us – get the picture?
So what do we do?
Well we prepare … and what do we do when we prepare?
Most build their PowerPoints with far too much information on cluttered slides, write the script and then practice it down to the minute details – that’s preparation, isn’t it?
I don’t really know, but perhaps we should then look at why we are so stressed, both before and during the presentation – a sensation that is then supplanted by extreme relief when the presentation is over as our pulses slow down and descend to 300 bpm.
To be fair, many presentations start badly – I mean really badly … warm up as the middle is reached and then fizzle-out to a forgettable finale as the presenter gathers their laptop and runs off of the podium, leaving a puzzled audience staring at the dust-trail left in their wake.
Preparation represents only about 97% of a successful presentation – not much then…
So if we have prepared all of this why do we have a sneaking suspicion that our presentation wasn’t really up to much? – and rightly so, in most cases.
The simple answer is that we have not really prepared much, and I’ll explain why.
The PowerPoint is slick, the speech is together, even – in some cases – the objective is clear and the needs of the audience have been taken into account, but there is one, big, golden key missing – The Presenter!
The presenter has not prepared themself for the presentation – now that is a shame – all that work and the most important is sorely lacking.
It’s a bit like preparing your car for going off on holiday – all is packed down to the finest detail, everbody is in, ready to go, the windscreen is cleaned to ensure maximum visibility, lunch has been prepared for the journey, the tyres are inflated – all ready to go but there is no fuel in the tank.
Nobody would forget that little detail, would they?
Sadly with presentations many do – all packed ready to go and the most important part – the engine is left to chance, there could be fuel in the tank – who knows, but let’s chance it.
An actor or a singer, whilst needing to learn their lines, goes through a long and systematic process to prepare for the show / play / film / concert – they would never dream of just winging-it.
So how can we, as presenters, even entertain the idea of taking the stage – which is more-or-less what we do when giving a presentation – without preparing ourselves?
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail – don’t even go there!
We all need to prepare ourselves, both physically and mentally before speaking in public – if only to give ourselves the chance to be ourselves – you remember, the perfectly normal and intelligent human being that we are, without evolving, temporarily, into a jibbering shadow of ourselves – which is often the catalytic effect that presentations trigger.
Think about the presentation as a stage in the theater – even if you don’t have to climb onto a stage – you are giving a performance, and the sometimes, unfortunate fact is that we are often judged, professionally by the quality of our presentation.
It is a case not so much of what we know, but of how well we can help others understand what we know – as I say on my website, there is no point being the best technician in the company, if you cannot communicate your skills and knowledge effectively.
Many people suffer from stage-fright, this is a fact, but there are equally many who have managed their phobia and turned this negative stressing energy into to high positive energy – anybody can potentially do it.
In the second in this two-part series, I will introduce some exercises that you can do to prepare yourself for your presentations – I guarantee that you will learn to enjoy giving presentations in the future – no don’t smile … I mean it.