Your heart is pounding, your neck goes red and blotchy, your palms are sticky. You’re about to give the presentation of a lifetime. There are thousands of people staring at you, you open your mouth… and nothing comes out. Ever been there?
Everyone can suffer from nerves, an adrenalin rush and anxiety before and during a presentation. But how can you channel this energy, get a grip, and give a great presentation anyway?
OK, so you’ve defined your message, you’ve got great content, you’ve got a clear structure, you’ve selected your visuals and now you need to practise.
“I never practise – I lose my spontaneity.” That's what one highly regarded expert I was coaching told me.
He took a bit of convincing but in the end I won him round. He took the plunge, stood up in front of a stranger and temporarily wasn’t such an expert, made mistakes, and found out that some things simply weren’t working yet. And importantly, he got the chance to imagine just what it was going to be like standing in front of a real audience.
The practice session proved to be less agonising than this speaker had anticipated. I gave him some straight feedback on what to focus on and how to improve. And he ended up giving an excellent presentation.
We can’t control a lot of things in life but by practising a talk or presentation we can grab a bit of control by familiarising ourselves with the route. Of course things can happen in the moment. If you know what you’re going to do more or less, you’ll be utterly freaked out if something goes wrong. But if you know what you’re doing like the back of your hand, a technical hitch won’t hurl you into a nightmare zone. Which is what happened to movie director Michael Bay at a recent Samsung event in Las Vegas.
Bay was supposed to be ‘chatting’ on stage with Samsung boss Joe Stinziano to plug the company’s latest TV set. But when his teleprompter crashed, so did he. He told the audience he’d just “wing it”, but there was no space in his brain for spontaneity. The big director with the big reputation stood up in public and mucked up big time. He muttered an apology and walked off stage. See the toe-curling video above.
To be honest I really felt for him. Things can and do go wrong. Your mic doesn’t work, the PowerPoint crashes, your film clip won’t start.
But my guess is he was counting on the teleprompter to see him through, and hadn’t bothered too much with the practice. The way you can reduce the risks of a disaster like this is to imprint your presentation on your brain by thoroughly rehearsing. It takes practice to be spontaneous.