Even the Best Presenters Get Nervous
It’s a very well known fact that the vast majority of people are fearful of standing up and presenting. Most of them suffer the adrenalin rush; the ‘fight or flight’. In this presentation Economist Paul Collier says, “Communication does not come natural to me. I’m on this stage and it’s alarming.” And you can see that he really means it.
Certainly during the first minute you can hear Collier’s nerves in his rapid breathing, and can tell by his stance, with his hands in his pockets. But do watch this, and in particular, pay attention to his faultless demonstration of how to use your hands -a common question I’m frequently asked- from the second minute through to the end. And see how he relaxes and really gets into his stride at around 8 minutes, after that initial rush has calmed down.
When beginning a presentation, it is so important to open strongly. And one of the tricks to do this, whilst battling with your nerves, is to use your hands emphatically. You also need to articulate a really strong statement. This will send out a clear message to the audience that you are in control, and their focus will be on your message, instead of your nerves. I heard a superb opening statement recently by a senior executive who was rehearsing his pitch to a university for a contract worth $150,000,000. He said, “I’ve been working all of my career to be able to be here today.” He had been a student at the university over 30 years ago.
Paul also excels with his pace of delivery, his use of pauses, metaphors, clear articulation and questions. The result is that his narrative, which must have been rehearsed many times, was conversational and creates the impression that he is relaxed to be on stage. He may not have felt it himself, but ‘perception is reality’. The best way to overcome anxiety before a presentation is to practice, practice and practice. There is no substitute. And then, as I always say – steal shamelessly. When you observe a really good presenter, steal from them. It is far less painful and timely to learn from the best. I do it all the time!
I also like his use of humour by citing a comment left on his blog after a prior presentation, “Not charismatic, but his arguments are compelling”. There is only one person who wants you to do badly in your presentation, and that’s your competition. Before you give your next pitch, go to the bathroom and look at yourself in the mirror. And ask yourself this one question; ‘Fight or flight?’ And then go kill the competition with your compelling message. You don’t have to be charismatic to deliver a killer presentation.
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