Giving your first presentation or speech is daunting. I’ve worked with many new presenters and here’s the advice that has made the most difference to them.
1. Content is king
Your audience is there for what you are going to say. Not how you say it.
This is good news for you as a new speaker. That’s because though you may not be comfortable in front of an audience, you can prepare good content.
Preparing good content requires time and effort – but there’s no mystery or magic to it. You can do it – even if you’ve never presented before. For a simple planning process check out my Presentation Planning Guide.
2. Good content leads to better delivery
Here’s a benefit for you of spending time preparing good content for your presentation. If you’re happy with your content you will deliver better.
Its an awful feeling to be standing in front of an audience with a little voice in your head going “I’m waffling. I don’t know how to express this.” That little voice will influence the way you come across – you may become quieter, more tentative and um and ah more.
If you feel good about the content of your presentation, you will feel less nervous than if you feel bad about it. And therefore you will come across better.
3. Expect and accept that you will be nervous
Preparing good content won’t get rid of your nerves entirely. It’s normal to feel nervous about presenting (see this post Why do you have a fear of public speaking). Rather than panic about your nerves – which will make them worse – simply tell yourself “I’m nervous, that’s normal and I can handle it.”
For more on reducing your fear of public speaking see the Nervousness category of this blog.
4. Your nervousness doesn’t show as much as you feel it
I know this is difficult to believe. You’re so aware of your nerves, it’s difficult to comprehend that others won’t notice.
But here’s the distinction to get. Your perception of your nerves comes from feeling them. Your audience’s perception of your nerves comes from seeing them. You can feel your heart beating like its going to explode out of your chest – your audience can’t see it. You can feel the sweat trickling down your sides – your audience can’t see it.
Yes, there are some symptoms of nerves that you audience may be able to see or hear – but they will not be as obvious to the audience as they are to you.
5. An audience will forgive most things
An audience is not a monster. An audience is composed of individual human beings. And most of those human beings won’t mind you being nervous, they’re not expecting dynamic delivery (they’d be disappointed most of the time) and they’ll forgive the odd um and ah.
There’s one thing though that most people are slower to forgive – and that’s a lack of preparation leading to disorganized and rambling content. They’ve given up their time to listen to you – respect that by putting time into your preparation. For more on this see 4 reasons to spend time planning your presentation.
6. Rehearsal makes you better
Rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal. You may not enjoy rehearsing because it will bring up feelings of nervousness about the real presentation. But with each rehearsal you will incrementally improve. On our courses, our participants report that each rehearsal improves the content of their presentation and the way that they come across.
For more on rehearsal see How to go from good presenter to great presenter.
7. Talk to one person at a time
This is the one delivery tip I’m going to give you. There’s only so much you can focus on in your first presentation and this tip will make the most difference to the way you come across.
Before you start speaking, find one person to speak to. Talk to that person for a few seconds (this could be a phrase or short sentence) and look for their reaction to what you’re saying. Then find someone else to talk to, talk to them for a few seconds, look for their reaction – and repeat.
You already know how to do this. You do it in the everyday conversations you have with people. All you’re doing is transferring a skill you already have to a slightly different context. I call it Conversational presenting.
Go well with your first presentation – and let me know what you find most useful in this list.
Or, if you’re a more experienced presenter, what have you found to be the most useful piece of advice for new presenters?