4 Tips to Take the Terror Out of Giving Presentations
By Roger Seip
What's scarier to most Americans than spiders, heights, or even
death? There hasn't been a horror movie made about it yet, but
more than 75% of Americans surveyed report that they suffer from
"glossophobia," a debilitating fear of public speaking. Statistically,
far more of us claim that we would prefer death to giving a speech;
even comedian Jerry Seinfeld used to joke that at a funeral, most
people would rather be lying in the casket than delivering the
Why is the prospect of trying to communicate information in front of
even one person so horrifying? Most glossophobes fear looking
bad, being criticized, suffering rejection, and losing business or
friends-all because they are certain they will forget what they'd
planned to say. Maybe you have had the experience of forgetting a
speech or presentation, or you've seen it happen to someone else,
and you don't want it to happen to you. Ever.
What's wrong with rote?
Most people memorize speeches by rote-or word-for-word
repetition-and try to deliver it exactly as they've written it. You
probably don't realize that this method of learning is actually
setting you up to forget what you're supposed to say because it
creates tremendous stress, which is in turn the number one killer
Or if you do manage to remember every single word you'd planned
to say, the effort requires so much mental energy that you come
off as a terrible communicator. You're not really there while you're
speaking because all of your efforts go into remembering what
comes next. If, heaven forbid, something distracts you, or
someone interrupts you with a question during a memorized
presentation, thinking about anything other than "What comes
next?" can throw you completely off-track. Your mind may literally
go blank, just as you feared.
And there's one more problem with word-for-word learning: 93%
of our communication happens non-verbally. The majority of the
message your audience receives has very little to do with the
actual words you say but with body language, tone of voice,
gestures, and facial expressions. So you can't expect to convey
ease and expertise non-verbally if your mental and physical
energies are completely preoccupied with delivering a verbatim
speech. You'll simply be too tense, and it will show.
And what's wrong with notes?
What about the security blanket of an outline or notes? You may
feel you need notes to stay on track when giving a presentation,
but if you're tied to those notes, you aren't free to make eye
contact, a key element of non-verbal communication. You'll also be
stuck behind a podium, and if people can't see two-thirds of your
body, that has a serious impact on the 93% non-verbal
communication aspect of your presentation. Notes may make you
feel a little better, but they also take away a crucial tool for your
As a real estate professional, for example, when you're discussing
listing or selling a prospect's home, an effective presentation is
one in which you are clearly the expert and know more about
selling a home than the person who wants the home sold.
Likewise, an American who is fluent in French doesn't need to
reference a French translation guide while vacationing in Paris. So
if you're fluent in your topic, you shouldn't need to consult your
notes, and your audience of one or many will sense this on a
subconscious level. However, if you feel you must use notes,
consult them very little or not at all, and you'll gain huge credibility
as an expert.
Four Tips to Relieve Presentation Terror
1. Regardless of how deeply rooted your fear of public speaking is,
with a few simple adjustments to your method of preparation, you
can grow more confident about your abilities so that much of your
fear disappears. When you know what you're going to say and
that your presentation is strong, public-speaking may still be a
little nerve-wracking, but it's exciting, too. Try these tips to help
turn that stomach-turning anxiety into the rush of great
2. Know what you're talking about. When you prepare an
organized presentation of any kind, you must be knowledgeable
about the company, product, or situation. Talk about things you
actually know well. If you're not confident that you know all that
you need to, commit to doing thorough research and learn what
you need to know to feel and look expert. If you truly don't know
what you're talking about, it will show, and all the tricks and
techniques in the world won't help.
Decide on a few key points. Good keynote speakers typically don't
have more than three or four key things for the audience to take
away from their presentations. The classic presentation formula is
a story that makes the audience laugh in the beginning, a few key
points for them to take away (usually illustrated with stories),
followed by an emotionally moving story at the end.
Another basic formula for effective communication is:
- Tell your audience what you're going to tell them.
- Tell them.
- Tell them what you told them.
3. Create visual triggers. Invent pictures in your mind and "store"
them in various places around the room where you'll deliver the
presentation. The pictures then become your speech. For example,
if one of your points is about achieving goals, you can envision a
set of goal posts as a visual representation of that concept. If you
want to make a point about freedom, envision an American flag
somewhere in the room, or a huge stack of money if you want to
talk about increasing profits.
4. Relax, have fun and be yourself. People respond best to a
message when the person delivering it is genuine. With sufficient
preparation of the right type, you'll feel comfortable enough to be
yourself in front of a group. You can then demonstrate how much
you believe in what you're saying. When you can relax and be an
authentic human being, you tap into powerful communication.
From Fearful to Fearless
You've undoubtedly heard a few presentations-both good and
bad-in your day, so you know it's a fact: you listen to and respect
those speakers who talk to you, not at you. A conversation is
always better than a lecture, isn't it? When you are preparing to
make a presentation, know that people don't mind if you stumble
over a couple of words; in most cases they don't even notice.
What they will notice, though, and mind a great deal, is being read
to or BS'd. If your audience feels as if you're insincere or
unknowledgeable, they may give you real reason to be a
glossophobe! But if you're prepared, knowledgeable, and relaxed,
you can expect to get the results you want, whether that's more
sales, promotions, or thunderous applause from your devoted
About the Author
Roger Seip has given more than 15,000 presentations. His company, Freedom Speakers & Trainers, specializes in memory training. Workshops are presented across the country. To learn more, http://www.deliverfreedom.com, 888-233-0407, firstname.lastname@example.org
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