With a few mind tricks, you can banish your fear of public speaking.
Our body responds to psychological stress in a similar way as physical stress, says Nancy Duarte, the CEO of presentation service Duarte Inc. That might manifest itself in some by sweating, stuttering or shaking during presentations even when they are not in imminent danger. These symptoms may have been useful to our ancestors on the lookout for predators. Regardless, anxiety is the last thing you want to feel while delivering a speech.
Luckily, understanding how the mind works can make public speaking a less nerve wracking experience, notes Duarte, author of HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations. Here are four tips on how you can master the art of presenting publicly, which she recently outlined in a HBR article.
1. Practice, practice, practice.
One obvious tip for giving effective public presentations is putting in hours of preparation beforehand. Before her TedxEast speaking event, Duarte says she rehearsed for 35 hours and posted pictures of her employees face's to simulate an actual event. Preparing a lot makes the event more predictable, helping avoid surprises that can catch us off guard, Duarte says.
2. Picture a perfect presentation.
Imagine yourself giving the best possible presentation and it may come true. The mind has trouble distinguishing between actual events and imagined ones, so it is possible to fool your mind into thinking that you've been there and done that. You'll have to visualize the speaking event in fine-point details, from the faces in the audience to how you will begin your talk, says Duarte. Doing so will make you less likely to forget talking points and smooth out your presentation. "If you thought you were already prepared, this exercise will make you ultra-prepared," says Duarte.
3. Find your zen state of mind.
Though you may control your end of the presentation, there are always things outside of our control from a cellphone going off to the projector blacking out. Get used to the idea of uncertainty, says Duarte. "At a certain point you have to trust that you've done all you can to prepare, and leave it at that," says Duarte. "The likelihood that your worst fears will come true really is very slim."
4. Don't let scowls faze you.
When we think people can tell we're nervous, we're more likely to mess up. But an audience most likely won't know you are nervous. If you stumble during your presentation, make a joke about it and move on. "They're not judging you. They're probably trying to be polite and listen. Or they might be in a world of their own," says Duarte. While rehearsing, Duarte says she once asked a research assistant to fidget and give her negative facial expressions. "The key is not to let anyone's body language faze you. Chances are, your audience wants you to succeed," says Duarte.