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How can someone who is nervous about speaking, develop presentation skills? Business presentation tips for a shy person:
By Unmana Datta
Picture a girl in her MBA class. It’s her first group assignment, and her group is making a presentation. When it’s her turn to speak, she is trembling so hard the sheet in her hand shakes wildly. She rushes through her lines and falls back in relief. The other students take pity on her and don’t ask questions.
That was me. And yet last week, when I conducted my first webinar, the host praised my presentation skills using words like “phenomenal” and “spectacular.” I don’t share this to boast: I want you to understand that it was a long journey for me. And if, like that scared girl ten years ago, you’re nervous about speaking, these tips might help.
This is really the most useful tip I’ve found. Nothing breaks your fear of public speaking but public speaking. Two things really helped me: first, the many presentations and discussions in b-school. Second, my volunteer work. After speaking to and managing groups of teenagers, I stopped being nervous.
Here are some ideas to get started:
– Go to events –business events, book clubs, anything you’re interested in. Don’t pressure yourself to do anything but attend and listen at first, but once you’re comfortable, speak up, ask questions, participate in the discussions.
– Volunteer. Find something to do that involves a lot of interaction with other people, if not public speaking. This helps break down your self-consciousness.
– Start small. Offer to make a presentation to your team at work on how to improve efficiency. Help your sister host her child’s birthday party. Offer to present at a small business event.
Basically, find something that suits your interests and is more interesting than scary. If you do one, the next will seem far easier. Also:
– Rehearse. When you actually have a presentation scheduled, rehearse for it. Time yourself and make sure you’re not taking too long – or ending way too quickly. Make sure you can talk without reading out your notes.
I am much less nervous when I know what I’m talking about. If I’m talking about online marketing –which I have worked in for years and feel passionately about, I am more excited and interested and while I might not know the answer every possible question, I have enough confidence to manage the discussion. Even back at b-school, I knew that preparing well for a presentation was essential. I’ll never be one of those people who can think on their feet and throw back witty answers. No problem – I’ll be the person who is well-prepared and offers useful information.
This is something that I have seen even experienced speakers slip up at. They don’t take the audience’s interests and knowledge into account or they ramble on with personal anecdotes or they start late or they don’t welcome questions.
Always keep your audience in mind when you are preparing. Is the subject too basic for this audience so they might be bored – or too advanced, so they’ll have trouble following it? Are the examples and case studies relevant to them? (Don’t talk about Apple and Virgin when you’re presenting to small-business owners, for instance: it might be interesting but it’s not relevant or useful. Instead, find out about your participants and use examples relevant to them.)
Which brings me to – use lots of examples and details. Stating the framework or general principles is important, but you need to demonstrate how the audience can use them. Give them something that they can actually go home and use, and they’ll remember you.
At one of our workshops for small-business owners, we had a template for participants to define their marketing strategy, which we printed out and distributed. I noticed one participant seemed particularly engrossed in his during the session. Later, he told us that he went back to work the next day (a Sunday) and redefined his business strategy based on what he had learned in the session.
Another thing I have noticed – when I talk about a specific tool or feature of a tool, everyone sits up and takes notes, even if that’s something you can easily find online through a Google search. But offering these details has two results: you have taught the audience something practical that they can go back and use, and you have signaled to them that you know your subject and won their respect.
I’m a rather sedentary person in real life. I spent most of my time seated, working or reading. I speak softly – so low sometimes that people have trouble hearing me.
But when I’m speaking at an event, I muster all my energy. I speak loudly; I move across the room, I gesture emphatically. (At least I try: sometimes my energy flags if it’s a long session.)Why? Because I noticed by attending events myself that the speaker’s energy is what galvanizes the room. Even if you have interesting information and you speak fluently and know your subject well, that’s not enough to keep your audience’s interest. Demand their attention by speaking loud enough to make it impossible for them to ignore you. Show them that you are interested in your topic – by your tone and your gestures as well as your words.
To this end, a tip: start with a small interactive exercise, even if it’s just having everyone introduce themselves. It converts your audience into participants, makes them feel they are on your side, that they have something to contribute. This makes them sit up and pay attention to your presentation.
I am a big fan of PowerPoints. But don’t put up all your info there. Use it to keep your talk on track, to direct the conversation. Don’t read out from it: elaborate on what’s up there, and use your examples and details to tell the real story.
And of course: put up images and big text, but don’t make it busy. Even someone sitting at the back of the room should be able to read everything easily. Remember that a presentation always looks less bright when projected on the wall: so use brighter colours than you think you need.
The focus should be on you, not the slide. Use fewer slides and keep most of the info in your head or your notes.
And lastly, if you are having an interactive session with questions from the audience, moderate the discussion effectively. Don’t let participants take the conversation off topic; don’t let any one participant hog the time. Respect everyone’s time and move the conversation along effectively, engaging in discussions that are more likely to benefit the entire group.
But if I were to leave you with any one tip, just remember this one: respect your audience. Prepare to give them something useful or entertaining. When you are preparing, don’t just prepare based on what you know. Prepare based on what they need to know. Don’t spend time on rambling pointless stories or a long bio of yourself. Turn the story to your audience. That’s really the secret to winning over your audience in any communication, be it a marketing message, a presentation, or a conversation with a friend.
*Photo credit: MyTudut (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)