3 Steps to Tackling Your Fear of Presentations

Image by BeckyF, flickr

Image by BeckyF, flickr

Sitting at number three on a list of the top 10 scariest things in the world is public speaking. Just below this, at number four and five, are ghosts and spiders. Why are presentations so scary? Is it the idea of staring at so many faces and being judged while on the spot that sends chills down your spine? The key to delivering effective presentations is to face this fear.
F – False
E – Expectations
A – Appearing
R – Real

When faced with scary situations, one of three things tends to happen to the average person; they freeze, they flee or they fight. Freezing during a presentation could mean losing train of thought or forgetting lines. Fleeing is avoiding the situation entirely – faking an illness or persuading someone else to take your place. Fighting means thinking on your feet and improvising. This tactic is common with stand-up comedians, TV personalities, and of course, politicians.

So what do Barack Obama, Ellen Degeneres, Kathleen Wynne and Michael Buble have in common? They are all great presenters, but just like you, they were all born with no presentation skills. They learned everything they know, which means you have just as much potential as they did at your age. So, how do you become even half as good as any of them?

  • Step 1 – Develop an Interest
  • Know your topic. Research it and feel comfortable discussing it with people on a casual basis. Try to get used to the idea that you’ll need to speak in front of a group on this topic.

  • Step 2 – Face your Fear
  • Don’t try to brainstorm creative ways to get out of your presentation. Accept that it will happen and focus on discounting the fear. Tell yourself why it’s unreasonable to be afraid of it. Is everyone else presenting too? They’re all in the same boat. Afraid you’ll forget a line? You’re the only one who knows what you’re supposed to say. People won’t know if you skip a sentence.

  • Step 3 – Practice
  • Your parents have been nailing it into your head since the day you were born. “Practice makes perfect.” Does this mean you’re going to fail a few times – or more – before you succeed? Yes. The formula to becoming a successful presenter is to double your failure rate. Am I asking you to fail faster? Yes, I am. Accept that you will make mistakes in your first few presentations. But also accept that the more you present, the better you will get.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane. Remember when your dad or uncle taught you how to ride a bike or how to skate? Recall how many times you fell, picked yourself up and tried again. That same can-do attitude is what you need to become a great presenter or public speaker.

World-famous Canadian author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell shares an insightful concept in his book titled Outliers. He says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become world class at any endeavour.

Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good. (Gladwell, 2008, p.42)

He goes on to quote neurologist Daniel Levitin,

In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals and what have you; this number comes up again and again… The emerging picture from such studies is that 10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything.

The takeaway for you here is simple: whether you have 10 hours to spare or 10,000, the more you practice, fail, get feedback, and practice again, the better you’ll become at not only facing your fear of presenting, but in your presentations themselves.

Great speakers are not made on stage, they’re just recognized there.