How to stay relaxed and calm during presentations.
Four tips that boost your confidence — also applicable for online presentations.
Some people are born speakers and passionate about performing on stage. But with a little practice, anyone can give a good presentation that will captivate the audience. With the following tips, you can look forward to your next presentation with confidence.
I do not like to be the center of attention and avoided big appearances as a speaker for years. But at some point, I started to rethink this, because I have some knowledge and experience that I would like to share. So, I started reading books on rhetoric and presentation techniques, attended training courses, and interviewed colleagues who want to give lectures. The four tips I provide here are the methods that work for me and that I still use regularly. Making speeches is still not one of my favorite jobs, but in the meanwhile, I can do them with a certain calmness.
Tip 1: Clarify occasion and context
First of all, it is essential to know the occasion and context and take these into account when giving a lecture. You can use a checklist for this. In recent years I have given lectures in various contexts and was always surprised to find out which situations I had not expected. In the meantime, I use a checklist before every presentation to prepare mayself well for unusual situations.
Here is the checklist that contains the topics you need to clarify and ask for in advance:
- Contact person with contact details?
- How was the event announced to the participants: title, description?
- Occasion: individual lecture, part of a series, voluntary, compulsory event?
- Exact date/time and duration?
- Preparation time: is it possible to enter the room before the presentation to do some preparation and checks?
- Location: room, surroundings, parking facilities, rooms for breaks, catering?
- Participants: Number, previous knowledge, motivation?
- Equipment / technical infrastructure: tables, chairs, projector, flipchart, pens, internet?
- Objectives: of the client, the participants, of me?
- Benefits for the participants?
- Financial compensation?
For online presentations:
- Software requirements?
- Environment: light, camera, microphone, etc.?
- Test run possible?
- Is my internet connection sufficient?
You know the topic you are lecturing on well, and perhaps you have given the lecture several times before. Make sure that the host has announced the subject as you have named it. Otherwise, there is a risk that the participants will expect something else. Depending on the amount of time you have available and the number of participants, adjustments may be necessary.
Ask your client about the objectives of the presentation and the expected benefit. In companies, there are sometimes mandatory events. The motivation and interest of the participants are then lower than if they had registered voluntarily.
Ask for the previous knowledge. Based on this information, you can then organize the lecture so that nobody gets bored, and nobody is overwhelmed.
Ask for seating arrangements to match your presentation. For a workshop, group tables may be necessary. For a pure lecture in front of a broad audience, you may need rows of chairs.
Even if the presentation is not on site but online, there are some things to consider: Which software is necessary? Is it possible to do a test run? Is the equipment of your working area (light, background, camera/microphone) sufficient?
Tip 2: Planning the content sequence
For a good presentation, you must think about the process and plan it. How you design the individual steps is individual.
However, the lecture should follow a certain flow:
- target and process transparency,
- introduction to the topic,
- transport of the contents,
- saving the results,
- questions / Discussion,
- closing and thanks.
Get in touch with the participants at the beginning. Introduce yourself. Pay a compliment (e.g., about the venue, the reception, etc.). If you are the humorous type, you can also lighten the mood with a joke.
I have already experienced some presentations where the speaker started directly with the topic and had no agenda. This isn’t very pleasant for participants because they want to adjust to the course of events. So, present the agenda and give hints for breaks during long lectures or workshops.
Let the participants know how you want to deal with questions. Is it allowed to ask questions in between, or do you want to answer them at the end? If you do not have experience with lectures, I recommend answering questions at the end. Otherwise, your schedule can quickly get messed up, or the audience will repeatedly ask on topics you anyway want to address during the presentation.
Depending on the participants’ previous knowledge, a more extended introduction to the topic can be useful. Everyone will understand what it is about, and nobody will be left behind at the beginning.
Also, think about how you want to transport the content. Of course, your words transport the content, but you can support this by pictures, stories, exercises, videos, and the like.
Think about how to save the results. You can ensure the saving of the learning by exercises, summaries of the most critical statements after each chapter, homework, etc.
Have you ever been to lectures where at the end of the time, the speaker suddenly said: “That’s it!”? This is not a satisfactory conclusion. Think about how to end the presentation. You can close with a summary or a quote that makes them think and reflect.
If you have asked the participants to deliver questions only at the end, make sure there is enough time for that and open the question and answer session.
Don’t forget to thank the participants at the end.
Tip 3: Mental training
Studies have shown that if you image the tasks in your mind, you can improve your performance. This has been studied especially in athletes, but there are also studies that do not refer to athletic performance. Hans Eberspächer is well known for his work in the field of mental training for athletes. He is considered a pioneer of sport psychology and has written numerous books about this topic. Also, the dissertation of Khaled Hegazy confirmed some effects of mental training.
In a study conducted 2016 in conjunction with BBC Lab UK, it has been shown that mental training, even when used only briefly online, actually works. The study, which involved more than 44,000 participants, found that mental exercises improve performance in a competitive online task.
In general, you get better at activities if you do them frequently. So, after the hundredth lectures, you will be more experienced than at the first lecture. Doing something mentally supports the routine and gives confidence, but you can’t get significantly better without any real action. Mental training and real action complement each other, ideally.
How can you use this effect for yourself?
Mentally go through the situation of the lecture with all senses. Develop a script. Imagine driving to the lecture venue and arriving at the parking lot, hear the car door slam, feel the ground under your feet. See how you walk towards the building, smell the fresh air. Go inside the building, hear the greeting, and go to the lecture room. See it right in front of you. Imagine all the details. See how your audience arrives. Hear the voices. Take another sip of the coffee standing in front of you, smell and taste the coffee. Start the lecture and imagine every detail with all your senses. Go through your lecture in your mind. Hear the applause at the end of your talk, see the eager faces.
Make sure that only positive impressions appear in your imaging. Everything in your script is going well. It is best to find a quiet room for mental training and make sure that you are not disturbed. A mental training session should take about twenty to thirty minutes.
Conduct the mental training daily before your lecture date. It is best to start 1–2 weeks before your lecture.
Tip 4: The anchoring technique
To feel inner peace and serenity during a lecture, you can use the anchoring technique. Before the lecture, you anchor a specific feeling, and later you can retrieve it with the anchor.
A change of state is associated with a stimulus. The perception of the stimulus causes an automatic reflex, which leads to an anchored reaction. The trigger can be a movement, a touch, or even a word that you say to yourself internally.
The technique of anchoring comes from NLP. But the foundation for the technology was laid earlier. According to Pavlov, anchoring involves the classic conditioning chain, for whose description he received the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1904.
Pavlov showed that after conditioning, a neutral stimulus provokes a reaction that previously could only be triggered by an unconditioned stimulus. He replaced an unconditioned stimulus (the sight of food) for an unconditioned response (salivation) with a conditioned (=neutral) stimulus (bell tone). By regularly ringing a bell just before handing out the food, he could trigger the salivary flow after a few times with the bell sound.
One can use the following stimuli for anchoring:
- visual anchors, for example, a logo, a symbol, a photo, a gesture,
- auditory anchors, for example, a word, a name, a jingle, a melody),
- touch (kinesthetic) anchors, for example, clothing, an exercise, a certain kind of touch,
- Taste (gustatory) anchors, for example, coffee, peppermint, chocolate,
- Smell anchors, for instance, new-mown grass, fresh cake, coffee.
How you can work with anchoring:
- Think about which stimulus you want to use for anchoring. It should be something that you can make inconspicuous during a lecture. Examples: Pressing the index finger and thumb together, forming a rhomb with your hands, a word like relaxation, serenity.
And it should be something special that you only use in these particular situations. For example, the taste of coffee wouldn’t be a good stimulus for anchoring if you drink coffee also in other situations. On the other hand, a special candy might work but is not ideal if you are speaking in front of an audience.
- Think of a situation in which you have already felt the feeling, the state you want to create (self-confidence, calmness). Dive inwardly entirely into the situation. Then exert the stimulus by executing the movement or saying the word inwardly. Do these three times.
- In the next few days, repeat the second step two to three times.
- Then use your anchor in the lecture by triggering the stimulus.
If you use these four simple tips, you will find out that you become more relaxed, confident, and experienced from lecture to lecture. Try them out and share your experiences.