It has been said that making a presentation is the most fearful experience for so many people that it heads facing death in the fear stakes!
While that is much of a hyperbole, it shows that fear could be the real stumbling block behind a good presentation of material. How it’s handled makes the difference between making a really successful, motivating and inspiring communication and something that falls flat.
How can you reduce the fear that could make a real mess of the message? Here are some tips:
1) Preparation is the key. Fear is produced when the emotional brain takes over from the rational brain, and introduces feelings of inadequacy. At this point, the fear acts as a protection mechanism and kicks in to try to stop you making a fool of yourself or experiencing a lot of pain related to the whole experience.
Preparing will alleviate some or all of this inadequacy. But it has to be the right kind of preparation. Over-preparation will take away spontaneity, and cause you to put emphasis and reliance on what you’ve prepared. If one thing goes wrong, or your mind suddenly goes blank, you face real problems, as the fear rises again.
There’s an old story of a pastor who prepared a sermon so well that he decided not to take his notes with him to the pulpit. As he faced his congregation, the reptilian brain took over and fear raised its ugly head. He addressed his flock, saying “My fellow brothers, when I walked up here to speak to you, only God and me knew what I was going to say. Now….only God knows!”
Preparation should be done in such a way that you can confidently approach the communication, knowing that you can get back on track if anything goes wrong.
2) Place more emphasis on the audience than yourself. Many people presenting a message are so fixated on the impression they are making, or the words they have to say, they forget the real reason for the message, that is, to change the perspective of the person or people listening.
It starts with your preparation. This should be carried out with the audience in mind. Ask yourself what you want the listeners to actually do as a result of the message you are putting across. And then concentrate on that, rather than making an impression.
The more you think about others, the less time and attention is spent on you. And that makes the fear subside.
3) Involve the listeners in as many ways as possible. Whoever it is you’re presenting to, make it so they are actively involved. Create a message that can be interactive, maybe asking questions (even rhetorical ones), making startling statements or making them think deeply about what comes next.
The more you involve your audience, the more they are thinking about the content and your questions, rather than judging you. That way, the emphasis is on what they are thinking about, rather than how you are coming across.
Fear, then, is False Expectation Appearing Real. It’s said that a coward dies a thousand deaths…a hero only one! If you are continually worrying about the next thing that could go wrong, you’re killing yourself mentally every single time. Instead, think through what you want to achieve, concentrate on the solutions rather than the problems, and that fear will dissipate into the distance as you confidently approach the presentation with ease and motivation.
Head of Training
Originally published: 30 July, 2012