I believe in the inside-out method of presenting.
Rather than thinking about what I’m doing on the outside eg: a specific gesture or movement, I choose what’s going on inside – my state of mind. My state of mind is the biggest influence on how I come across.
Different states of mind work for different people. So here’s a selection of states that may work for you. Experiment with them and see what works best for you.
If you’re nervous
1. Speak as if you’re in your seat
Do you find that you’re quite comfortable when you’re sitting down talking to people round the table, but as soon as you stand up, you become flustered?
Often, people ask me “Can’t I just present sitting down?” Most of the time, standing up is best. Standing gives you credibility and authority.
But you can capture the state of mind that you have when you’re sitting down. That state of mind has you be natural and conversational.
Try this out with a couple of friends as your audience. Start your presentation sitting down. Once you feel in flow, stand up but continue speaking as if you were in your seat. The first time you try this you may lose your “sitting down” state of mind. Practice the transition from sitting to standing until you can stay in the same conversational mode. Get feedback from your friends on how it’s working. Notice how you’re feeling now as you “present” standing up – do you feel less flustered, more grounded and more engaged with your friends?
2. Throw yourself forward
Are you nervous at the beginning of your presentation, but once you’re a few minutes in, the nervousness disappears. Before you present next time, think of what you’ll be like once you’re in the flow of the presentation. Conjure up that feeling, visualise yourself presenting in flow – and now start your presentation.
3. I’m here to help you
Both Jerry Weissman (author of The Power Presenter) and Joey Asher (author of How to Win a Pitch) recommend you take the focus off yourself. When you’re presenting, your ego is at stake – and it’s very easy to be obsessed with ‘What will people think of me?” rather than what you can do for the people who are listening to you. Here’s Joey Asher:
Before your speech, say to yourself, “I’m going to go out there and help these people today.” I use that affirmation all the time when I’m nervous before a speech. It helps me a lot. My clients have found it helpful as well. The affirmation works by requiring a shift in attitude. When you say “I’m going to help these people,” you interrupt the selfish self-talk that accompanies the fear of public speaking.
Jerry Weissman says:
Shift the focus from yourself to your audience. This shift will not only reduce your anxiety, it will also heighten the effectiveness of your presentation or speech.
If you’d like to have more enthusiasm and passion
4. Animated dinner party conversation
Present as if you’re the centre of attention of an animated conversation at a dinner party. All the other conversations have died down ‘cos you’re on fire! Or as Joey Asher puts in his book How to Win a Pitch:
Imagine that you’re having dinner with your best friend. And imagine that you’re talking about something you’re really excited about. As you’re telling this story, chances are that you’re talking with a great deal of animation. You smile as you speak. Your eyes light up with excitement. Your voice rises up and down like a roller coaster.
This natural animation is far more compelling than staged and artificial gestures, or forced attempts to change the pitch of your voice.
Are you in a careful state of mind when you present – do you want to get every word right, and make sure you don’t miss anything? You may get it right – but you’re unlikely to be engaging and enthusiastic.
Try on this state of mind: “Carefree”. Carefree is not the same as careless. Carefree is when you’ve put in the effort in the preparation phase and now that you’re in front of the audience, you can let go of the need to get it right. You’re happy to let a few minor mistakes go by. Instead of focusing on getting it right, you focus on engaging with your audience.
6. Your audience is eager for every word
It’s easy to feel discouraged about presenting if you think your audience is unlikely to be interested in your topic. But if you feel like that – you’re likely to telegraph it to your audience. Instead, imagine that your audience are graduate students who not only are deeply passionate about your topic but are about to be examined on it. They’ll be hanging on every word!
Yesterday I was presenting to a group of public sector accountants. It was the last session of the day at a conference on the latest developments in public sector accounting. I did have the odd moment of thinking – they’re not going to be interested in my session – they’re here for an in-depth discussion on accounting procedures. But I realized that that state of mind was not going to have me come across at my best. I turned it around to thinking – “After a whole day full of detailed sessions, they’ll love a visual and interactive session on a soft skill like presenting”. Much more useful to me… and true.
7. You’re the host/hostess at your party
I remember back to the first party I hosted as an adult. I was very nervous – would anyone turn up, would they talk to each other? But when people did start to dribble in, I knew it was my job to get them relaxed, have them feel welcome and introduce them to others. So I was bubbly and vivacious – and the mood spread. Taking on the state of mind of being a host or hostess of your party is a great way to help you come across as friendly, approachable and enthusiastic.
8. Be over the top
For some people, none of the above work. If you’ve been given feedback that you’re boring and monotonous when you present, here’s your assignment. Lock yourself into a room with a video camera. Then give your presentation to the video camera. First, be totally silly – like over-the-top silly. Now be dramatic, over-the-top dramatic. Now be totally passionate.
Now watch yourself back. Are you more interesting to listen to than you were before? Find a trusted friend and ask them their opinion. If you presented like that in real life, would it be appropriate and effective? Most of the time it is. Because you’re normally quite reserved, what feels totally over-the-top to you is likely to come across as moderate enthusiasm. So the state of mind you’re aiming for is “I’m being over-the-top!”. But you know from the video feedback and from your friend that that is just right for the audience.
What states of mind do you use when you’re presenting that work for you?