(And as it happens, is useful in stand-up comedy too)
Overcoming speaking anxiety in meetings and presentations (or speeches), is an essential part of your business presentation skills.
Most people in senior positions want more than an obligatory clap at the end of a presentation or speech. They want to move people. They want to influence their thinking, beliefs and behaviours. And personally they want to be remembered as a great speaker.
No surprises there. They are high achievers, after-all, and in most cases exceptional at what they do.
That might be what they want, however for the many professionals and leaders I’ve worked with over the last 20 years, that’s not what they get.
There are many factors that hinder the ability to communicate effectively in front of an audience. The focus of this blog is fear. However, I must share a common error that if addressed, can make an immediate difference to your presentations or speeches. Many executives or leaders depend upon their marketing departments to pull together a presentation deck, or their speaking notes. Normally, they will receive these days (sometimes hours!) in advance of the presentation.
This is not best practice. Own the story and influence the structure so that it is easier and more authentic to present. The marketing team can own the messages and production. When you are comfortable with the content and feel it is authentic to you, you’ve taken one big step towards reducing presentation related fear.
Fear and nerves can de-rail the strongest leader and distract the most brilliant mind. For many in very senior leadership positions, the fear is not necessarily about the size of the group, but about the size of the opportunity. It is driven by pressure they put on themselves to get it right and deliver results. The stress of being exposed because it might be filmed and shared with their seniors at head office. These are all valid reasons – it’s not easy carrying that kind of pressure on a 30 minute speaking slot.
However, focusing on those thoughts only feeds the nervousness which starts to manifest through physical reactions. They may seem rudimentary, but together they stop people from reaching their full potential.
For instance, the jaw may tighten, limiting your ability to tap into the vocal tool kit you should be accessing. The shoulders could tighten and slump. This compresses your lungs and ability to take deep breaths only adding to the tightness of the chest. A speaker might feel hot and sweaty – making them feel uncomfortable.
Perhaps the biggest and most costly reaction to nerves – is when the mind starts racing and takes you way off track. This might mean you start rambling, miss all the key messages (or you hit them, but they don’t land with your audience). Worse – you may say something you simply shouldn’t have!
Mind management is a big part of the “performance” side of presenting. In my business presentation training and coaching, I try to spend a lot of time on this. I can never emphasise enough just how critical it is to succeeding on centre-stage. When you are looking for a business presentation training course, be sure to check that mind management is covered.
Stand-up comedy delivers this communications coach a lesson in complacency
The first time I got on stage at an open-mic night, I ignored my usual ritual for overcoming business presentation anxiety. I figured – my material is good (as verified by my stand-up comedy coach); I offer business presentation coaching; and I have many “performances” under my belt. This isn’t even a serious business presentation! I assumed it would be simple in comparison because the comedy environment is so casual.
I was wrong. An hour before it was my turn the nerves set in. I sat in them, indulged them and let the fear, doubt and negative mind talk take over.
Within a minute on stage, I fell victim to all the classics. I rambled; went over time; ad-libbed; made inappropriate comments; went completely off track; and didn’t connect with my audience. The fear controlled me because I didn’t control it.
I did get some laughs and I wasn’t booed off stage. But no comedian (just like no leader) wants to be average.
Not one to quit, I gave it a second try. This time, I went back to my mind management routine and the outcome was infinitely better. I felt the good nerves – the adrenalin of excitement – and harnessed them to encourage a positive mindset. On stage, I was able to genuinely connect with the audience and deliver the material in the precise way it was intended.
With each performance, I improved. It’s incredibly rewarding when you connect with an audience and get them thinking, talking and remembering your moment in the way you had hoped and planned.
The lessons are applicable to business presentations or speeches
After weeks or months of preparation and rehearsals, the final thing within your control to ensure a brilliant on-stage moment – is managing your nerves and programming a positive mindset.
Adopt mind management strategies through presentation coaching or by taking a business presentation course. When you acquire the skills to overcome your fears and free your brilliant mind – you will always get the most out of your business presentation opportunities. Provided you make a conscious decision to use them.