You have heard that the greatest fear of the average North American is making a public presentation. While I doubt that is an accurate statement, there is no question that the anxiety arising from this task can be described on a scale from debilitating terror to reluctant acceptance.
I have found that this skill (presentation skills) is one in which serious participants can make great progress if they will pay attention to the basics and gain control of the attendant anxiety. Your first mission is to put your anxiety into perspective. All presenters have butterflies; the key is to get them into formation. Below are three tips to assist you in this process.
The first tip is to understand your audience is very forgiving. In fact, they will forgive you for any mistake you make in your presentation, save one. That one is the lack of preparation! Therefore, if you prepare, you will do OK. (By the way, it is unlikely you will ever make mistakes as embarrassing as I have made over the years. I once said “It’s time for a Coke break” in front of a group of PepsiCo senior executives. They fired folks for even mentioning the competition. On another occasion, I once said to a group, “After all, you’re the ‘Good Hands’ company.” My sponsor later informed me that State Farm does not use the slogan “You’re in good hands.” I could go on; but you get my point.
Secondly, I am sometimes shocked that presenters don’t rehearse their presentation. The rule is this, for a 1st time presentation, you need to rehearse three times and at least one in the room which your presentation will be made. Winston Churchill was considered the greatest speaker of the 20th Century. After making a short 12 minute speech he was exiting the stage. An onlooker said, Sir Winston “How I envy your ability to speak spontaneously so well.” Churchill is said to have replied, “Sir, every minute was the result of one hour of preparation and rehearsal.” If Churchill rehearsed so intensely, most of us need to follow his lead to reduce our anxiety.
Lastly, do your breathing exercises for relaxation. It is amazing to me that you can command your body to slow down by the way you breath. Here it is, take in a deep breath all the way to your belly, hold it for 5 seconds and exhale slowly through your mouth for 5 seconds. Do this 3 to 5 times before you speak. Your body will tend to obey your command to relax.
If you found these three tips useful and are interested in other ways to improve your public speaking, check out our class on Perfecting Your Presentation Skills! The Center for Management Development offers a variety of certificate programs for those interested in Wichita leadership training. We also offer onsite training and certificate services throughout the state of Kansas and the country.
Dr. Hackett attended public schools in his native state, Oklahoma. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1967 with a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance. After he felt the call of the classroom, he returned to the University of Oklahoma as a NDEA fellow and received his Ph.D. in Marketing and Management. In 1973, he joined the faculty of the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, as a Professor of Marketing.