When I complain about something that doesn’t make me feel good, I have a good friend who will often chide me with, “What does how you FEEL have to do with it?” And he’s right. Usually I just have to throw on some big girl pants, swallow my fear, and carry on.
Presentations can be one of those things that don’t make us feel good. We have clients tell us they hate presenting, they get too nervous, and they don’t feel confident. I can hear my friend’s voice in my head, “What does how you FEEL have to do with it?” He’s still right. How you feel matters very little. How you behave matters a lot.
If you worry about how you feel, you are not focused on your audience. Your audience can’t see how you feel. How you feel won’t impact their decision to support or ignore your idea. Your behaviour, on the other hand, will.
A week ago I delivered a keynote talk to a room of 170 people. The content was new, tailored specifically to the needs of our client and, as a result, I didn’t feel as confident as I normally do. Rather than beat myself up about that, I figured it was normal. I had no idea how it was going to turn out. Maybe they’d be bored. Maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe they would laugh at my jokes. Maybe they wouldn’t. I had no idea and that made me nervous. I didn’t have anything to FEEL confident about!
The good news is I’ve learned how to fake confidence and I’ve practiced it a lot. The better news is once I start faking it, I do start feeling it. My brain manufactures the feeling out of the behaviour I am exhibiting on stage.
So, if you are one of those presenters who rarely, if ever, feels confident about presenting, here are the three techniques I use to fake it until I feel it.
Adrenalin hits your blood stream a few minutes before you start presenting. This is normal but it will cause you to want to rush. All of that extra energy in your body is dying to get out! Resist! Resist the urge to race into your presentation. Force yourself to look at your audience, smile, and speak slowly. Breathe. Rushing into it will make you look nervous. Taking your time will give the impression you are far more confident than you feel. Remember, they can’t see how you feel. They can only see how you behave. Start slowly.
Approach Your Audience
Nerves might make you want to play side show to your PowerPoint deck. While you hang out next to the screen, hiding in the pale glow of your slides, your audience is longing for a presenter who takes control, who guides them through the content with an expert hand. Nothing is worse than lecterns. No, they are not podiums (the podium is the little stage you’re standing on), they are lecterns and they are the worst kind of barrier between an audience and a nervous presenter. Want to really display confidence? Step out from behind the lectern. Abandon the shelter of PowerPoint. Approach your audience. When your adrenalin makes your legs start fidgeting, take a step TOWARDS them, not away. And, please, don’t dance on the spot.
We all know how painful it is to sit through a presentation where every second word is “uh” or “um.” Suddenly we’re counting the filler words and not listening to the content. Before we know it we’re wondering if this clown is ever going to take a breath or be able to end a sentence without filling the space with “uhhhhhh.” Don’t be that presenter. It’s a tough habit to break and I know because I was that presenter. One year doing radio broadcasting at Journalism school broke the habit. We learned to pause. Pauses were so important we had a special notation for “pause” that we would mark onto our scripts so we didn’t forget them. Suddenly the “uhs” and “ums” were gone. Why? Because that pause gave us time to think about what we really wanted to say next and it was never “uhhh.” We kid ourselves if we think never pausing makes us sound confident. It does the opposite. With no time to think, our brain fills the void with filler words making us look ill prepared and even like we might be making it up as we go along. Pauses will make you sound more confident.
In the end my keynote went well. I faked confidence. I owned the content I had developed and told myself it was going great, even when, really, I wasn’t sure if it was. At the end of the talk, I was stopped outside in the hall by several people who thanked me for an engaging and useful talk. The best of the day! Phew! I felt great but, as always, what does how I feel have to do with it? All that mattered was them and if every presenter tells themselves that before starting, faking confidence is no problem at all.