They’ve been known to bring the strongest of people to their knees. They’ve destroyed small countries. They’ve even made some blog writers exaggerate. Of course I’m talking about the ultimate destroyer of worlds — presentations.
We've all heard about the idea of imagining people in their underwear. I don’t know if that has worked for anyone, and in my case, depending on the audience — it has actually made me more nervous.
In my experience, I’ve had big successes and huge failures. I've sweated so much that it rivaled the famous scene in Broadcast News. I've blanked out so poorly that it would have made Sarah Palin come across as well-read.
But not to fret. We’re going to get through this together. Granted, I don’t have a magic blue pill for you, but I do have some suggestions that will bring the romance back to your presentations.
Rehearse and rehearse, but not too much.
I always try to rehearse. I’m a big believer in rehearsing, but not too much. I think if you over-rehearse you can psych yourself out. You start trying to say things exactly the same way, like you’re trying to remember your script.
Another trick I do is to try and flex my stress away. This may seem like a very bro/Affliction T-shirt method — but hey, it works. Try to flex your arms as tight as you can right before you present. Tensing and then relaxing right beforehand relaxes me. Who knows, you might pick up a phone number or two. Depending on what kind of shape you’re in, of course.
Be your own worst enemy.
I always try to get people to laugh in my presentations. My favorite punchline? Myself. As a presenter, everyone is paying attention to you. They came to listen to you. Always remember that. If you stumble, simply poke fun at yourself. It humanizes you and puts the audience at your level and relaxes the room. I’ve found that self-deprecation never fails to get a chuckle.
Sorry. Not sorry.
I’ve known people who do this consistently. They stand up — and begin with “Let me just start off by saying I’m sorry for whatever.”
Why on earth would you do that? Not only are you setting yourself up for failure, but you’re also shooting off a signal flare that what the audience is about to hear isn’t worth listening to. Be confident. Know that no matter what — people actually want to hear what you have to say. You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. And I’m sure someone likes you.
It’s nothing personal.
No one can say every presentation they’ve given has gone as planned. Technical difficulties. Sickness. Or just a cranky audience. Sometimes things just go wrong. Just make sure you don’t become part of that problem. I always believe it’s OK to defend your work. Just don’t be defensive while doing it. It’s much easier to forgive a messed up slide than it is to forgive an unlikeable speaker.
Are you not entertained?
I’ve always found that advertising clients love presentations. It gets them out of their daily grind of looking at spreadsheets and white papers. We all know it allows them to share their opinion. They like to be entertained, so let’s entertain them. Advertising is an interruptive media. We're always trying to get people to listen. In this case, this is where they really want to listen and you have a captive audience. I make it my goal to try and sell with so much enthusiasm; I want people to feel like a schmuck if they don’t like my idea.
Why don’t you like me?
Lastly, the last thing an audience should ever hear is “Did you like it?” You’ve just gone from being an expert, to a middle-schooler looking for affirmation. This isn’t a popularity contest. Don’t dig for a pat on the back. You’ll hear thoughts in feedback and by people’s reactions in the room when you’re talking. Honestly, that’s enough.
Of course, if all else fails, there’s always the underwear theory.