5 tips to surpass your fears and build great presentations
Being an introvert, I find it challenging to be vocal when surrounded by outspoken extroverts. Talking in front of an audience is truly intimidating, but in the beginning of my professional life, still in college, I decided that my personality would not prevent me to achieve my goals.
Recently, I hosted a fireside chat, interviewing a successful entrepreneur, writer, CEO and investor in front of an audience of 30 people. I was so nervous in anticipation to the event, that I had nightmares in which everything possible had gone wrong.
To prevent my fears from materialize in real life, I have been working hard to become more comfortable on public speaking. Here are my main strategies:
Take every opportunity to be a presenter: I remember the first time I volunteered to do a presentation. My hand was shaking when I raised it, as the professor requested a volunteer to present a research on data mining in a Computer Science class. I have been raising my hand on every opportunity since then. The best way to develop past any fear is to just face it.
Study presentation techniques: books, trainings, Toastmasters - use all resources you have available to learn how to develop and deliver you presentations. The more you learn about good practices and apply them, the more comfortable you will get presenting. I've read Talk Like Ted by Carmine Gallo, taken storytelling trainings at work and I still want to join a Toastmasters club. It's a continuous process and you'll see improvements in each presentation you'll do.
Prepare, prepare, prepare: this is the key to be comfortable in a presentation and to engage with the audience. I write down a script before I start practicing, and I focus both on what to say and how to say it. By rehearsing and owning your presentation, you'll feel confident while following your script or improvising.
Record and watch your presentations: as scary as it can be, watching your presentations is a great way to identify specific areas you need to focus on. After watching two work presentations, I realized I over-utilized filler sounds (like ah, uh). Later, I noticed that these sounds were also present in conversations. As I became aware of the problem, I have worked to fix it, adding more pauses when speaking and presenting to avoid the fillers, and I have seen great improvement.
Tell stories: stories activate many areas of the brain, leading to chemical reactions and hormone releases, while a presentation with facts and data just activate two areas. Your audience connects deeply with your story as they related it to their own ideas and experiences through a process called neural coupling. As they tune into the story, their brain activity syncs up with you, the presenter, and the other listeners in a mirroring. An emotional charged narrative boosts the brain to release cortisol - that helps the audience to stay attentive and aware, dopamine - that promotes a rewarding feeling when your audience follows the story and help them to memorize it, and oxytocin - same hormone released when mom's give birth, that promotes bonding and emphatic behavior towards your hero. Telling stories is also fun!
A few minutes before starting the fireside chat presentation, I was anxious, feeling both shaky and sweaty on a cool, rainy day. As I started talking, following my script to introduce the guest of honor, those mixed feelings transformed into energy, and I relaxed while having a great conversation with the interviewee and interacting with the audience. I balanced following my script while being spontaneous and improvising. All the effort preparing for the event pays off, once the audience engages and provides good feedback.
For the introvert divas that are still thinking if public speaking is for you, I suggest that you find an opportunity to present about a topic you love in your work or community this week. Do you have any tips for introverts to succeed at public speaking? Leave a comment on Facebook or Twitter!