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via Forbes : For me, standing center stage in front of a group feels natural. Honestly, I’m not sure if this can be attributed to childhood dreams of entertaining others; spending years participating in orchestras, jazz bands and various sports events; my experience directing and performing in an improvisational comedy troupe; observing my father, countless times, delivering presentations with ease. Whatever the reason, I find presenting to be invigorating and enjoyable.

This is certainly not the case for most. For years it has been suggested that the fear of public speaking is second only to that of snakes.

Many people have shared with me that they begin feeling intense anxiety prior to the event, experiencing sleepless nights and constantly worrying about the presentation. It doesn’t seem to matter for these individuals if the speech is in front of hundreds or a few, it’s a very anxious time.

Because it is a skill set I believe all can benefit from, I’m sharing several of my tricks of the trade and am hopeful it will benefit you personally or someone you are helping coach:

Step One: Choose A Topic

First, you don’t need to be an expert on the subject or a savant. Rather, you need to be passionate about the topic and genuinely interested in teaching others what you know or have learned about it. If you are not personally vested in the subject and enthused about its potential impact on your audience, your presentation will fall flat. I know that feeling from my improv days, recalling that one-liner that painfully never struck a chord with the audience.

Step Two: Actively Prepare

As I organize material to support a presentation, I begin by intently focusing on the topic. That means looking for articles, research and other third-party commentaries that relate to the subject. Amazingly, as I concentrate on it more, waves of inspiration appear. Perhaps it’s similar to the psychological phenomenon known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon that confirms a subconscious at work.

Baader-Meinhof is the experience where you learn an obscure piece of information and soon afterward see the same subject pop up again, often repeatedly. As an example, if you are considering the purchase of a white Honda, from that day forward you will see an avalanche of white Hondas. Admittedly, if you are delivering multiple presentations in a compressed timeframe, this can become rather overwhelming (the record for me was delivering a total of nine presentations on different topics over a three-day period).

Step Three: Connect To Your Audience

You need to know who your audience is before you choose a topic. Connecting with your audience is different. I find it helpful to meet and introduce myself to people outside the auditorium or meeting room and even seek people who may be attending the presentation at social events leading up to it.

During these interactions, try to pique their interest on your topic and learn all you can about them. Then, as you’re speaking to the larger group, find your connections in the audience and speak directly to them. The affirming nods and eye contact provides a comforting feeling and always gives me the energy necessary to cross the finish line.

Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?

Step Four: Weave A Story

One final tip that has worked successfully throughout my nearly three decades of public speaking and more than 300 presentations is including a story to drive one or more of my points home. Relatable, sincere and interesting, such a technique engages the audience, personalizes the message and boosts credibility. Stories need not be firsthand experiences, but that generally works best and enhances believability.

Although there are many other nuances that contribute to a solid performance, perhaps these four ideas will help you face your fears and more effectively seize the public speaking moments that surface along your path. For me, speaking has uncovered more than a few opportunities for our company and has provided a platform to share opinions and offer predictive insights. It has even opened up a few doors that permitted me to combine my passion for speaking with my experience in improv comedy (this would take too long to describe, but these were especially rewarding!).

Let me offer one last reminder. As you prepare for your presentation, approach the stage and begin, don’t forget to breathe. It’s amazing how this simple natural body function will help you relax.

 

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