September 19th, 2019

I must admit, I wasn’t always comfortable with public speaking. In fact, there was a time in my life when I would have rather taken a calculus course than present in front of hundreds of people. Thankfully, I got beyond this fear and now coach others on effective presentation skills. Nearly 85 percent of individuals are nervous speaking in public. The reality is that the fear of public speaking has caused many executives to be left behind or passed over for promotions. The skill of presenting is no longer a “nice-to-have” capability; it’s a must have. For those of us who were not born with natural eloquence, public speaking can be remarkably nerve-racking. While we can’t all deliver the “I Have a Dream” speech as powerfully as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., there are lots of small things that will help improve our presentation skills. Below are a few that I use when coaching clients:
  • Organize Ideas and Materials—Most times people have too much information, leading to information overload. Well organized content helps the presenter command attention and interest, and it also inspires audience confidence.
  • Practice! Practice! Practice!—You need to rehearse your presentation several times. Practice in front of a mirror to get a sense of what you look and sound like. Also, tape and listen to yourself to help identify bad habits of which you may be unaware. Practicing makes you more confident in your delivery. And, the more confident you are, the less nervous you will be in delivering your presentation. Whatever you do, don’t wing it.
  • Take Deep Breaths—By taking deep breaths, you’ll turn those jitters into enthusiasm and energy. Also, instead of talking continuously, pause to allow audience to reflect. Accepting your fear is fine, just don’t get all worked up and let fear paralyze you.
  • Arrive Early—I always tried to arrive early to get adapted to my presentation space. Also, if there are presenters before me, I can easily play off of their information.
  • Engage with the Audience—It’s always a good practice to chat with people in your audience before you present. It makes you seem more likeable and approachable. Sometimes, these conversations inspire me, and I can usually weave them into my talk.
  • Use Power Stances and Gestures—Practicing confident body language is another way to reduce presentation jitters. Standing makes you more confident and provides better control. Maintain eye contact, keep hands above waist, bend elbows and combine sustained with unsustained movements. Also, use your hands in combination with verbs. For instance, if you say “xx was so big,” use hand gestures to emphasize the point.
  • Use AV Effectively—Avoid death by PowerPoint by having too many slides or too much information on your slides. Read my lips—PowerPoint is designed for illumination and should not be cluttered with tiny words or numbers that no one can read! Try mixing up your media and illustrating your points through photos, music, demos and videos. You can also use props to drive audience interest.
  • Don’t Forget to Smile—Believe it or not, you increase endorphins and replace anxiety just by smiling. Smiling also exhibits confidence and enthusiasm.
Public speaking is the key differentiator in a noisy world where everyone wants to get ahead. Becoming a good presenter will put you head and shoulders above the competition. This content initially appeared on