People who know me will know that I am not the shy and retiring type. Having worked in sales for the majority of my career, walking into a crowded room and striking up a conversation is as much a part of my daily work life as formatting a spreadsheet is to an accountant.
Despite this, when my Director suggested that I speak at our next event I was filled with dread. At 27 years old it took me all my courage not to burst into tears in front of the owner of the company. Over 100 people had signed up to the event so far and with numbers increasing this only intensified my fear.
My Director could tell that something was wrong, he took me aside and told me that as he had total faith in me, why else would he put his own reputation and company on the line by asking someone who wasn’t capable to present on behalf of the business?
This made sense and it did instil some confidence but by no means is this the lovely ending to my story. People’s faith in you is an amazing thing which you should never take for granted but it does not deliver your presentation for you. You do that. It’s now your hard work that is going to see you through.
Here are my 5 key pieces of advice to any new speakers out there:
Practice makes perfect
Now this may seem obvious but it really helped me. I learnt my presentation off by heart, word for word. The minimises stalling as you’re on autopilot, once you lose track that’s when the nerves kick in, so don’t let it happen.
Notes are OK
Just because you’ve memorised every line like a true thespian doesn’t mean you can’t have notes. If in the unlikely event you freeze up entirely and can’t remember a single line, have your notes resting on a lectern nearby. The reason I say this is that by holding them your shaking hands may give away your nerves.
I started my presentation with a story, it grabs the audience from the word go and they will automatically tune in to hear what happens next, it’s human nature.
Get the audience involved
Turn the attention on them, ask them a question, ask for a show of hands, if they’re standing you could ask them to split the room. This is a great way of detracting attention away from yourself and grabbing their attention at the same time.
Pictures speak a thousand words
Obviously I cannot speak for your content as this is bespoke but what I would say is don’t fill your slides with loads of text. For example, if you are talking about the journey of your company don’t give them bullet points full of statistics use a photo of a road leading into the horizon, use a graph, use company logos of the great clients you’ve on boarded. People haven’t come to read your slides they’ve come to hear you speak.
Remember, unless you’re Donald Trump speaking at a Democratic Party conference, your audience will be willing you to do well, they want you to succeed as much as you do. Use this encouragement when you stand in front of your listeners.
At the end of my presentation the audience applauded and I’m not embarrassed to say that I was proud of myself. I was glad that my director had pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone. I’d progressed in my career and learnt a new skill. I’m sure I’ll be just as nervous the next time I am asked to present but there will never be a part of me that thinks, for one second, that I can’t do it because I’ve proved that I can and you can too.