Scared of Presentations?

24 11 2009

Photo: Stock.Xchng

Scared of Presentations?

5 Easy Steps Towards Better Presentation Skills

Everyone has heard the urban legend that states “more people are afraid of public speaking than death.”

Thanks to blogger and Toast Master Richard Garber, I was able to locate the well cited date in The 14 Worst Human Fears list in the 1977 Book of Lists. In the study, 41 percent of people feared speaking before a group, while only 19 percent feared death comparitively. This data was skewed into the “more people are afraid of public speaking than death” urban legend we hear today.

Tirelessly, I looked for some data along these lines, but I was unable to find any such figures; however, I dug up an article in the Archives of General Psychology that claimed that one in three respondents reported “excessive anxiety” when they spoke to “large audiences. This study, conducted by three doctors with impressive acronyms, also reported that the onset of this fear appeared in half of the study by 13 years of age and that 90 percent of participants in the study were shaking at the podium by the age of 20.

I thought I’d do my part to relieve this anxiety by making presentations a little easier with these personal tips. These tips are loosely  based on George Mason University’s The Short Guide To Effective Presentations.

So here is the skinny.

1. Know your mission: Determine your purpose by establishing what you want your audience to know and how you would like them to act on this knowledge.

2. Establish your target: (target audience that is) Analyze your audience and tailor your message according to their age, education level, knowledge about your topic and attitude toward the topic.

3. Gather intelligence: Gather enough information to write an effective presentation, then adjust the information as to avoid overwhelming the audience with too much information. Remember, it’s better to recall all of some, than none of all.

4. Operational pictures: Add interest with relevant images. Never add a photo that doesn’t add to the message or embody the emphasis of the topic. Only use charts, graphs or illustrations if they are simple enough to understand and increase the audience’s understanding.

5. Train: Practice, practice, practice and then? Practice! Ideally, research your topic until you feel like an expert. When you feel comfortable with the content, run through the presentation. Preferably, practice out loud with your visuals. If at all possible, record your practice and make notes about eye contact, movements, uses of gestures, tone, enthusiasm, pace and voice projection.

Quicksprout blogger, Neil Pate, points out that this recorded practice run can be a great tool to catch errors because You usually don’t notice when you say ‘uhm,’ ‘ah,’ or any other useless word frequently, but the audience does. It gets quite irritating.” Pate also recommends that you “Show some movement – People are more engaged with an animated speaker.”

A quick word on the visuals – I’ve never fancied myself as a great writer, but I’m a solid writer. More importantly, I’m good with visuals and drawing interest. I’m not saying that visuals will carry your presentation, but visuals can garner attention and carry interest through your content. For expert advice on your visual layout and slides, most specifically for PowerPoint and Keynote, I recommend that you check out Presentation Zen.

The visual rule of thumb is to keep it simple. Pate warns, Whatever your visuals may be, keep them simple and don’t put too many words on them. The audience isn’t there to read your slides; they are there to listen to you present.”

If you need more insight, this You Tube video provides comical parody into the problems associated with, in this instance, PowerPoint presentations and zealous naivety.