Often times clients come to me feeling overwhelmed because they’ve been tasked with (ok, forced) to present important information to a large group of 40+ professional peers and/or managers that might not agree with their findings (or co-workers that just like to argue or “mansplain”), or they have to pitch their business to investors and feel like they are going to be “ripped apart” if they don’t do it “perfectly!”
In either case, the audience ranging from a few people to hundreds melds into a blurry faceless pit of anticipated judgement and scrutiny. With that much fear in their preplanning it’s no wonder why they stir at night with anxiety for at least a week before a presentation.
I have found that 2 techniques work consistently to help alleviate a great deal of fear and ensure a much more successful presentation:
Deliver your speech as if you are talking to ONE person directly. MAKE IT ALL ABOUT THAT PERSON. Pinpoint that ONE audience member in the crowd that you feel exemplifies your ideal listener and imagine that your content solves a huge problem for them.
When trying to figure out who that person is, ask yourself, “What is her name? What does she do? What is standing in the way of her getting what she wants? What do you want her to do after she watches your presentation?”
Have a clear picture of her in your mind and assume that she is going to love you and your content because of how it benefits her. When you picture one person that wants you to succeed it directs your speaking tone away from a general canned performance in which you are talking AT a crowd. Too, when you have one person in mind you’ll start having a genuine conversation that feels real and organic. This style is so much more effective than the majority of the painful/boring “lectures” we’ve had to endure in which the presenter is stiff and sounds like they are reading off of a bad teleprompter.
Craft your message in such a way that the audience member goes on a personal journey in which you address their issue at the start of the speech, and clearly communicate an actionable solution for them by the end. Structure the presentation with your ideal audience member’s problems in mind.
I always ask my clients at our first session “what is the CONFLICT?” Conflict can have various meanings and connotations. I define it as 2 forces wanting separate things (one wants to do something and the other does not). What is standing in the way of your ideal person getting what she wants? The articulation of that hurdle is the conflict. Address that up front in your presentation and then continue to chip away at how the main character (you or your clients…perhaps even your company) are working towards a powerful resolution throughout your presentation that will resolve this problem. This especially applies to pitching to investors. What conflicts are your consumers currently experiencing? How does your product or service make their lives better? The more we are clear about the conflict and what the solutions are the more people are engaged in your speech and thank you for it afterwards.
Audience members will overlook nervousness, sweaty palms, and the much lauded “likes” and “ums” if you are offering them a clear answer to a question they’ve been wrestling with for a while.
Next time you have a speech, I invite you to practice speaking to one person directly (as opposed to a faceless crowd), and organize your content as it relates to solving a major problem for that person.