In the second part of Overcome Presentation Fears we explored a further three strategies to use. You can read about them in detail by clicking or tapping here for the second session or here for the first session but in summary they were:
1. The audience is on your side
2. Know your material / know its contents
3. Practise in front of an audience
4. Remember to breathe!
5. Never do these things
6. Focus on the audience and not yourself
The last three that I’m going to explore are:
7. Imagine and plan for potential issues
9. Control the atmosphere
7. Imagine and plan for potential issues
Visualisation is a technique that proponents argue allows the person to influence the world around them by altering their thought processes. A change in thought process and a redirection to imagining success with a particular desired skill or goal in general leads to accomplishment of that goal.
Wallace Wattles (1860-1911) was one of the first people to use this technique and many organisations, athletes and establishments have advocated this strategy ever since such as: Ronald A. Finke, who wrote about this in Creative Imagery: Discoveries and Inventions in Visualisation.
I challenge that single approach to success, as I believe from my studies that there is a much more effective tool to use; it seems that psychology today agrees with me too.
I wrote about this more effective tool that is called doublethink
in a previous post on my personal blog and you can read about it here
. The simple fact of the matter is that, contrary to what advocates of visualisation indicate, the overwhelming evidence is that visualisation alone will seldom bring the successes desired. Many studies (1) such as those carried out by, among others, Professor Oettingen have shown that those who solely use visualisation techniques are not as successful in reaching their goals as those who use doublethink strategies.
(Please see the footnote for two such research sources.)
I strongly encourage you to read about doublethink by clicking here. It really is significantly more effective at helping you to reach your goals than merely visualisation.
My reason for stressing the importance of employing doublethink is that imagining how you are going to perform, imagining the audience’s various responses and imagining the atmosphere in the room while simultaneously giving due diligence to how you are going to address any issues that arise is a highly effective toolset for overcoming the fear of presentation. “When it came to it, I just couldn’t cope!” is not something that you want to be saying. Using imagination and addressing hurdles to overcome, at the same time, put you in much greater control and you are far more likely to reach your desired goal of delivering a confident, well presented performance.
Be very specific at this stage. What atmosphere do you want in the room? What expressions, questions, attitudes and behaviours do you envisage your audience showing? What will you do specifically when things ‘don’t go quite as you planned’? What awkward questions might someone ask and what bank of answers do you have that you can use to reply with? When someone fidgets or looks clearly disinterested in your direct line of sight how will you cope? How do you imagine delivering that key message and what will you do to ensure it is clearly expressed and then adopted by your audience? Or, in a musical scenario, if there’s an awkward musical phrase that you’re having difficulty playing imagine yourself playing it just as you want to as well as employing all the strategies you have put in place to play it to your best ability.
One could spend a whole book on effective communication; there is so much that can be said. So as not to make this blogpost hours in length to read!, I have highlighted some of the most critical points to remember.
- Make eye contact with as many people in the room as possible, as often as possible. If you don’t know your material and its contents (see point 2 in the first post) you will simply not be able to maintain eye contact as much as possible with your audience. You might even start reading your slides and using them as your prompts! That is one of the worst communication errors that you can make. Remember, you are presenting, not your slides. Know your slide’s contents well enough that you only need one or two words (a short sentence at the most) to be able to present. The biggest error you can make is to display slides with dozens of images and symbols as well as reams of text. That is one sure-fire way to switch off your audience!
- If you fail to recognise the difference between presentation and conversation you are actively encouraging your audience to ‘switch off’. I have discussed some of this in Part Two under number 4: Remember to breathe! but I want to explain this in more detail in this last post. Powerful motivational forces run when we are conversing with someone. We recognise ‘turns’, we pay attention so that we can reply with a point or even change the direction one the conversation and, if we’re confused or disagree with a point made, we invariably voice that confusion or disagreement in the hope that the person speaking will further clarify their point and then continue, with perhaps ourselves or others going in the conversation. No such opportunities exist when presenting. There is no ‘turn-taking’; the presenter is doing just that: presenting. They understand that for all intents and purposes they will not be interrupted, they generally won’t need to clarify their point since most people are too afraid to raise a query and if confusion arises in the audience: tough on them! When confusion arises in the audience, rather than immediately querying with the presenter in the hope to getting back ‘on-track’ in the conversation – which is what would naturally happen in a conversation with someone – the confused person ‘back-tracks’ in their mind in the hope of checking their confusion and hopefully increasing clarification. The speaker, of course, hasn’t waited for this to happen (they don’t after all know!) so they carry on speaking. This means that the confused person is now behind what is presently being spoken about. Often, the effect in the audience is to ‘switch off’, clearly, this is absolutely not what you, as the presenter, want to have happen.
How do you avoid audiences ‘switching off’? Aside from making your presentations so much more interesting!, as a presenter you must make sure that your audience doesn’t ‘switch off’ and the following suggestions will help prevent that happening:
a) People attending presentations naturally assume that they are going to listen – not speak. It is the psychological drive to ‘take turns’ that you must therefore harness. ‘How many of you agree with me?’ might be a question that you ask to your audience. Better yet, if you can engage a ‘crowd response’ you are really on to a winner! Find ways of expecting your audience as a whole to respond e.g. ‘Share what you’ve learnt in the past 10 minutes with the person next to you.’; ‘Hands up if think what I’ve said is true for you!’ .
‘Crowd responses’ like you get at pantomimes are even better. All that collective ‘Boo-ing’ and ‘Cheering’ is immensely powerful at getting us engaged, and staying that way. I’m not suggesting having your audience boo you is good on any level but having your audience sincerely laugh with you at something you’ve said is a powerful retentive influence. They will actually listen out for further opportunities to do something that they enjoy doing: laughing. Don’t tell jokes (unless you’re a successful comedian!) but humorous anecdotal experiences are effective ways of engaging ‘crowd responses’.
b) Avoid ‘um-ing and er-ing’
Your audience will ‘switch off’ from hearing the meaning that you are wanting to communicate and will start counting the ‘ums’ and ‘ers’. It’s OK to ‘um’ in conversation; it’s not OK in presentation. People who ‘um’ are looking for inspiration, to give themselves more time to articulate their answer or what they are going to say on the next slide. If you’re thoroughly prepared you know what you’re going to say and what might be the possible questions your audience might ask so the likelihood of ‘um-ing’ is dramatically reduced. If you’re ‘um-ing’ a lot practise a lot more.
c) Show enthusiasm and passion about what you’re presenting. If you’re not showing positive emotion: you shouldn’t be presenting. Simply put: if you’re not passionate about what you’re saying how can you expect your audience to be? Remember though intonation dissipates with distance. You need to exaggerate your intonations and expressions so that these characteristics reach the back of the audience. Speaking slower, pausing every 6-10 words and repeating and emphasising key words will all help to communicate your meaning as effectively as possible.
If you find yourself wondering how you can communicate more effectively contact me by clicking here.
9. Control the atmosphere
The reason Control the atmosphere is no. 9 is simply because doing all the previous 8 will generate the atmosphere that you want and allow you to control it in the ways that you want. If you recognise that the audience has come to hear you (so you must be worth it otherwise they wouldn’t); are thoroughly prepared in what you are going to say or do and have a good grasp of what the audience might ask you; have practised - a lot (the late Steve Jobs practised and practised for days before his world-renowned Keynote presentations); let your presentation breathe; avoid saying things you shouldn’t (start being your biggest fan; not your biggest condemner); focus on the audience and not on yourself to deliver the best presentation that you can; use visualisation and address the hurdles to overcome, together; and communicate as effectively as possible not only will you have the atmosphere you want in the room but you will have the kind of presentation that people will want to hear again and again and again!
(1) Oettingen, Pak and Schnetter: “Self-regulation of Goal Setting: Turning Free Fantasies About the Future into Binding Goals” (2001)
(1) Oettingen and Gollwitzer: “Self-regulation of Goal Persuit: Turning Hope Thoughts into Behaviour” (2002)