Presenting to a big crowd is not everybody’s natural state; hundreds of eyes are looking at every move you make, listening to every word you say. It can be incredibly nerve-wracking, and the more you think about it, the more you panic, and the more you suck. Of course, for highly extroverted people presenting to a big crowd is heaven, and they enjoy every second of it without using any trick in the book. However, for the rest of us, we need some help.
A friend of mine is inexperienced in public speaking and fears presenting on a big stage. On top of her inexperience, she is terrified of educating the crowd on topics she doesn’t feel 100% comfortable. One day, her boss asked her to do a presentation instead of a colleague who went on holiday. She got stressed from that moment onwards. The presentation was more than a week away, but she couldn’t help but feel anxious. Obviously, one of the critical things for reducing the stress level during the presentation is to be very prepared. She had that going for her, but still, that was not enough. The day before the big event she could barely sleep, and couldn’t think of anything else than her slides, and her speech. On the big day, it went well; she performed well. The presentation was coherent, understandable, and entertaining. The crowd liked it, and everything seemed to be fine. This success was due to her excessive preparation. She rehearsed the presentation at least 15 times to different people over the last two days leading up to the day. However, she felt that she was not great, and wasn’t happy with herself and left the stage disappointed. She just knew she could do much better.
Online advice comes cheap, but is it worth a dime?
A few weeks later she needed to do another presentation. The topic was even more uncomfortable for her, due to the lack of knowledge she had in the area. The preparation was chaotic, and she did not get the support from her superiors. She wasn’t happy and felt unprepared to go on stage to present it. A day before, she came to me, asking for my advice. Her slides were fluid; she didn’t have the chance to get prepared. Me, being a good friend, I wanted to help her very much, so I went on the internet. You know Google is your friend, and so I looked up presentation tips and techniques. Let me summarize what I found:
- Be prepared
- Be more prepared
- Practice in front of a mirror
- Eliminate fear (thanks, great advice, never thought of this)
- Read books on the topic
- Imagine the audience is naked (what?..)
- Relax and Forget About Your Fear of Public Speaking (again, thanks)
- Work on your breathing
I knew that this advice might be great, but it’s not going to cut it for this case. So, I needed to come up with something else, something much more personal, which will help to get through the next day’s presentation. I realized it needs a personal touch, and I need to match the right solution with her personality. Generic googled answers are great sometimes, but most of the time you need the personalized custom-made stuff. So, I started thinking about a more tailor-made response which would fit her perfectly, and she can adopt on short notice. She is smart, generally self-confident, blessed with good looks (yes, it is still vital in today’s world), excellent communication skills, and she knows all this about herself. At one point the solution came to me: She has anxiety about presenting because she feels she is not worth talking about the topic. She doesn’t feel she is qualified to speak of those things. She is not an expert; why is she talking about it? That’s when I realized she needs to feel like she is worth it and I need to bump up her self-confidence in a way which matches her personality.
I rolled the dice and told her she should think of herself as a QUEEN — somebody who is the ruler of everybody sitting in the room. The audience is your subject, and you can not say anything stupid, or anything which doesn’t make sense, because you are above them, you are the queen. I know this is a hazardous proposition, because if you overdo it, you will not connect to your crowd, and you will sound incredibly arrogant. However, I knew she would be able to pull it off and maintain the balance of feeling great about herself, despite not being prepared, not being the master of the topic, and being connected to her audience. So she did. The presentation was impressive, she was confident, and sounded extremely competent. Big success, and more importantly, she felt great about it. She came off the stage and felt great, knowing she nailed It, despite all the unfortunate circumstances.
What’s the take away from the story? Very simple. There are solutions and fixes for everything on the internet — generic solutions. However, we are all different. Some stuff works on everybody, but some don’t. You need to find what works for you and embrace that something. Experiment, what works for you, what is the scenario, where you feel empowered. Find out what makes you unstoppable, and then you will be unstoppable.