Sometimes I have the pleasure of coaching a client who is absolutely paralyzed at the thought of public speaking. Don’t get me wrong, I do not get pleasure from their paralysis; rather, I enjoy helping them work through their roadblocks and witnessing their transformations into more confident speakers.
It is excruciatingly difficult for some to consider stepping into the spotlight. The sweaty palms, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dry mouth, and sheer terror can be debilitating.
What advice do I give them?
First, I don’t give any. I listen.
I ask questions. I enquire about their potential audience, their content, their expertise. I try to understand their concerns, their fears, their past experiences. I ask for clarity on their goals, their aspirations.
I ask them to explain what success looks like. I want to know what being a confident speaker means to them.
Before I can help someone prepare for an upcoming presentation, whether they have a date and an audience in mind or not, I want to learn about them – human to human.
Being someone’s coach or guide-on-the-side is very much like standing at the podium – it is always about my audience.
In my one-on-one coaching, that audience is an individual, a person, a subject matter expert, a business owner, a president, a high-performer, a knowledgeable authority, a manager, a professional, a confident person in many regards, and someone who is sincerely interested in their personal and professional development.
For my clients, their audience could be colleagues, their staff, other practitioners in their field, venture capitalists, conference delegates, online participants, clients, boards of directors, a global workforce, interviewers, media, university students, managers, professors …..
Most professionals present to someone at some point in their careers.
Some present formally in a more traditional sense, from a podium to a large group. Others present in board rooms or online meetings.
Most know their stuff but hold themselves back because they are uncertain how best to show up confidently. Some freeze up, avoid career opportunities and live with fear and regret.
My advice varies, as it should, based on each person’s objectives and their potential audience. I also consider their setting and the methodology, as well as their levels of experience. When I know where someone is and where they want to go, then I can help them get there faster (and, do they ever!).
In a general sense, here are three considerations for exhibiting confidence, even when you don’t feel it:
When it comes to confidence or lack thereof, some people experience imposter syndrome, which brings a host of internal conversations and physical responses.
Dismissing the physiological and psychological reactions that cause nervousness is ill-advised, in my view. Pretending something doesn’t exist is not an effective means of addressing the underlying issues. Feel the butterflies, acknowledge the sweaty palms, listen to the heart racing.
Endorphins. Adrenaline. Cortisol. If these are elevated, you care.
You care about your performance, your audience, their experience, your reputation, all of it.
That’s good! We should care. We don’t want to waste others' time, we want to give them value for having spent time with us.
But, we shouldn't allow ourselves to believe that the jitters are negative. We should tell ourselves, instead, that we are excited.
We ARE excited. By definition. And excitement can be joyous. If we are speaking with someone, individually or in groups, we should be honoured to have their attention, privileged to have their focus, and appreciative of their time.
Sometimes I hear comments about someone’s natural ability to captivate an audience, give a speech, or deliver an engaging keynote.
Natural. Ha! There is nothing natural about having a sea of eyeballs focussed on you for the first time at 32 years old...or at any age.
As youngsters, some bypass or miss out on early opportunities to build confidence or experience situations that damage self-esteem.
As we mature and grow and learn and excel in many other ways, the thought of public speaking may feel ever more frightening and distant.
We may observe others who are seemingly nonchalant about standing in front of a crowd, appearing cool and collected in the spotlight.
That level of confidence in presenting, for the absolute vast majority of people, takes practice.
We must be willing to do the work, to be self-aware, to challenge ourselves. Good presenters know their stuff, but they also hone their craft. They work at their content and delivery, their audience engagement tactics, their use of technology. Humans are not born with those skills.
Sometimes people ask me how long it takes to become a good presenter. They ask me how long it takes to prepare for a presentation.
People want benchmarks, such as how many hours of preparation for every hour of presentation delivery. I’ve heard various responses from others, none of which I put much weight into. Why? There are too many variables.
There is no magic formula of ‘for every one hour of presenting, it takes (insert a mundane number here)’…the answer should be ‘it depends.’
It depends on your fluency with the content, your comfort level with technology, your level of confidence, and the risk of success/failure (i.e. what is on the line).
It also depends on your readiness to perform, the level of performance you expect of yourself, and the distance between that and where you are currently.
And, it depends on whether you have scripted or designed the presentation content or whether it is a bud of an idea that has yet to come to fruition. For me, I can spend an hour getting ready for one-hour presentation - or I can spend weeks or more – it depends.
One thing I know for sure, 'winging it' is never a great idea. Be prepared. Rehearse. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Some professionals have the discipline and the desire to visualize and put themselves mentally in the moment of success. Others play out worst-case scenarios and believe all will fail. Whatever you tell yourself is what you are setting yourself up for.
Part of changing the narrative and practicing is actually running through every possible scenario and imagining it happening right in front of you so that nothing derails you.
In the time leading up to a presentation, performing a dress rehearsal isn’t just about reading your notes and plopping pictures on a few slides. Rather, it is going through as many of the motions as you can in advance.
It's putting on the outfit you plan to wear, standing up as you talk out loud. It is considering various audience reactions to your messages and planning your responses to those various reactions. It's envisioning their eye contact and facial expressions. It's rehearsing your open body language and imagining your audience's positive responses.
If you have access to visit or view the venue in advance, great. If you can perform the presentation from the actual microphone in the actual room in front of a live test audience of friends and family or otherwise, fantastic! However, if you don’t have that luxury, then visualize it. Play it out in your mind. Every moment of positivity. Give detailed consideration to the before, the start, the during, the end, the after.
Hear their applause.
Feel their gratitude.
Truly visualize your success.
These are just three of a whole host of strategies and techniques for exhibiting confidence during your next (or first) presentation, even if you feel a bit uncertain.
While it might be difficult for some to overcome confidence challenges, like any skill, effort and hard work move us to our next level.
And when that next level is reached, it feels so gratifying. I see it. I witness my clients embrace the spotlight, engage their audiences, and nail their presentations - even when they don't feel confident.
My job is to tap into your potential, to bring out your best performance, and to celebrate your transformation as opportunity starts banging regularly on your door.
You know your stuff. Let me help you present it with more confidence. Book your free 20-minute Discovery Consultation to learn more.
-Tisha Parker Kemp
Original photo of confident woman from Alexas Fotos on Pixabay: modified by Yours Truly