You are an expert in your professional field, or you are currently developing your expertise during your traineeship or academic studies. Then you are asked to soon present your project to other experts and an interested audience.
Many people feel anxious before their first presentation, or sometimes even before their twentieth. They feel stressed and think about all kinds of mistakes – which then promptly happen.
So how can you overcome your fear of public speaking?
This blog post evolved from a podcast interview in the Coaching Inspiration series with Marian Bansmann (in German).
Self-Confidence is a Skill you can learn
This is my public outing: As a teenager and into university, I myself was afraid of the reactions of my classmates. Back then, I did not feel confident about myself. My first major step out of fear back then was the topic of “Self Confidence” in high school English class. I faced my fears for the first time and also found the motivation to speak better in front of an audience.
My major breakthrough came during a weekend rhetoric training. Like all other training participants, I was repeatedly challenged to deliver short impromptu speeches in front of the others. I was motivated to continue by the helpful feedback I received from the trainer. The decisive factors at that time were my intrinsic motivation, the willingness to step out of my comfort zone and to keep trying things out.
As a student and especially as a PhD student, I received a lot of helpful feedback from colleagues during in-house colloquia. Thus, I was ideally prepared for my presentations for upcoming conferences.
Today I am on the other side providing feedback to many experts, scientists and students regarding their presentations. Coaching is a great approach for individual preparation regarding presentations. In my view, the key is that it is not appropriate to generalize. One of the most common questions is how to prepare for the next presentation. The possibilities are as varied as the number of people that join a coaching session: For some, sports exercise two or three hours before the talk is ideal to relieve stress and build up energy. Some like the so-called “Power Posings” according to Amy Cuddy. Then there are those who listen to loud rock music or heavy metal beforehand, while others prefer relaxation and meditation or targeted mental training.
As a lecturer, I was particularly enthusiastic about the regular interaction with often very motivated students. It all started with classic frontal lectures. To be honest, I quickly discarded the 90-minute monologs. The students’ ideas and opinions were much more important and interesting to me and also helped them to evolve their subject-specific skills, and they contributed greatly to a varied event – for both sides. When the students themselves were then asked to present in front of their fellow students, lectures with changing media were soon established: no pure slideshow with death by PowerPoint, but rather a variety of oral presentations, short video segments, physical experiments on site, group work and discussions. Constructive feedback from the group was the key to a varied and successful lecture.
How to overcome your Fear of Presentations?
If there is one thing that has helped me, it is regular repetition. Rhetoric training can provide many helpful impulses. But for many people it fails when it comes to putting what they have learned into practice – and I literally mean practice: The regular implementation! This is where repeated individual coaching for targeted personal development comes in. A very effective option is the internal colloquia I mentioned earlier.
Another good opportunity are Toastmasters meetings. Here I consistently deliver short talks myself and get external feedback on my presentations. The regularity has significantly accelerated my ability to present high-level talks. Here, to this day, I meet many people who have put aside their fear and are themselves addressing very interesting professional and personal topics.
What else can you do to overcome your presentation fear? Good preparation is definitely important! Consider the purpose of your presentation, the added value it will bring to your audience, and who will be in the audience in the first place. In addition, a clear structure with the classic sequence introduction – main part – conclusion, whereby the main part should not be overloaded with information. Share only the most important information that provides real added value. This is how you can generate knowledge by giving speeches.
A tip that I have already included in many of my blog posts: Record your rehearsal speech with your smartphone and play it back again: First, only with sound, so that you get used to your voice and hear all the good things you said and what you would still like to improve. Then play the video without sound, so that you can recognize your charisma and enthusiasm, or adjust it if you want to present more dynamically. Finally, watch the entire video with sound. Based on your findings, you can revise your presentation. Usually, one or two points are sufficient to work on in a targeted manner before you rehearse again. Always remember to be aware of your own strengths: Praising yourself is a good idea!
How much time should you invest in preparation? It all depends: Professional speakers and keynote speakers take a whole day for each minute of their talk. More realistic would be about one hour of preparation per minute spoken. This time orientation was provided by keynote speaker Frank Asmus in a comment on his LinkedIn post.
Being an Introvert, can I deliver great Speeches?
A common misconception: People believe that only extroverted personalities can deliver high-class speeches. Yet there have been and still are numerous outstanding introverted speakers who inspire and excite their audiences. The most famous among them is certainly Barack Obama. Once a very poor speaker, Obama has taken advantage of targeted training with high personal motivation. Today, Obama is one of the most high-class and inspiring speakers; they once paved the way to become President of the USA.
If you are an introvert: Intros often deliver profound and particularly well thought-out talks. Most people are not aware of this. The crucial thing is that your presentation matches your character and fits your personality. Therefore, in my trainings and coaching sessions there are no standard tips on how to improve speaking skills. There are many ways to improve, so I discuss with you what might suit you best.
Presentation Training is Part of your Personal Development
One last point: It is definitely worth working on your presentation skills. For me, this is part of a never ending personal development.
It is also a question of your mindset whether you believe change is possible. People with a Fixed Mindset (according to Carol Dweck) believe that our character is innate and therefore not changeable. I myself belong to those with a Growth Mindset, according to which our abilities can be transformed. Last but not least, I have gone through these changes myself – and still experience it on an almost daily basis.
Unlike the often replaceable hard skills, soft skills are an integral part of your personality. With digitalization, many hard skills are already being replaced by artificial intelligence. While this process will continue, our personalities cannot be outsourced. Hence is in your hand to evolve your personality. Communication skills will gain further importance in work and private life.
Here is my final impulse: Find your own personal topic. Find your personal theme, your passion. What personal experiences can you share with others? What is your personal key message? What is your mission? If you deal with these questions, you will be able to show your personality also in presentations. This way you will act with even more self-confidence.
This post is also available in: German