Fear

January 5, 2010

Many people are frightened of public speaking; a survey in the USA actually put public speaking ahead of death as the number one public fear. 

So why is presenting so terrifying?

As a pack animal by nature, we are contradicting our natural behaviour.  Rather than staying with the pack, we are isolating ourselves.  By standing out front, the speaker is stating that he/she is different from the rest of us.  Not only do we have to stand out in front of the pack we actually have to face them eye to eye.  Definitely, a position of conflict. 

Having dared to be different, we then start to worry about our credentials.  Is my material good enough, can I present it properly, what will the audience think?  Then of course there are all the confidence sucking thoughts about what I look like, do I know what I’m talking about, can they see my knees shaking, will I be able to read my notes, will the slides work, have I put them in the right order, and so on and so on.

It is the same as any other time we are conscious of being judged, like at exams, interviews or our driving test. It is perfectly normal to be anxious before an important presentation.

The main reasons for fear or nervousness are:

  • Isolation
  • Fear of performing badly
  • Fear of the audience and their reaction
  • Fear that your material is not good enough

How to overcome the fear of presenting

The first thing to remember is that people rarely look nervous.  People will not notice that your knuckles are turning white, or that your knees are shaking.  And even if they do, they will probably be sympathetic, remembering the last time they did a presentation.

The audience are just people; they have similar fears, doubts and inabilities as you.  There are various tricks that you can use to remind yourself that the audience are just ordinary people. 

Winston Churchill is reputed to have imagined that his audience were all in the nude.  Franklin Roosevelt used to imagine that every one of them had a hole in his sock.  Conjuring up these pictures in your mind is designed to make the audience feel more like ordinary people, who in fact they are.

The main way to overcome the fear that your performance will not be good enough or that your material is weak is through thorough preparation.  After all, poor preparation produces perfectly pathetic presentations.  So think through the OSRAM components and practise your presentation many times before you give it for real.  This will help give you the confidence to succeed.

Probably the most comforting thought is that your audience want you to succeed.  From the very outset, they are on your side.  It is very rare to have an audience who does not want you to succeed, after all why would they be there.  Why waste their time listening to someone who is a poor presenter or who does not have anything worth listening to.

Another comforting thought is that, more often than not, you are presenting because you know something that the audience do not.  They want to hear what you have to say.

Don’t forget to take some deep breaths before you start.

The most important thing is to remember that you are supposed to be nervous. You just need to put it to one side and get on with the job in hand. Do not start worrying about being worried as that is a downward spiral to oblivion. Fear prior to a presentation is perfectly normal.  If you are not frightened, that is the time to start worrying.

Presentation Training and Coaching is available from the author of this blog. Please visit my presentation training  website.

Give me a day and I’ll change your presentations, forever