Whether you’re presenting to a group of five coworkers or a room full of 500 strangers, it’s sure to be stressful.
But you don’t have to let your nerves get the best of you, says speaker Todd Herman, a leadership consultant who works with professional athletes and corporations like Shell, Chevron, and Cisco.
Herman offers a few simple things you can do before any big presentation to ensure that it goes smoothly:
1. Set aside any personal interactions until after you’re done.
Herman tells the athletes he coaches to avoid personal phone calls or conversations with loved ones for five hours leading up to a game, so they’re personal lives don’t affect their performance on the field.
He recommends something similar for business professionals, telling them to set aside a specific time of the day to deal with personal things, like discussing with a spouse where to get dinner or when to pick up kids from school. If this reserved time happens to fall before an important presentation, he tells them they need to reschedule it for later so they aren’t distracted.
2. Practice “The Positive of Negative Preparation Principle.”
“When he’s looking at what to invest in, Warren Buffett doesn’t just see the positive outcomes for every decision. He thinks of all that things that could go wrong,” Herman says. Going into a presentation with a purely optimistic attitude could set you up for failure. He recommends that you visualise everything that could go wrong in your presentation and have a response prepared.
3. Imagine what will happen at the end of the meeting.
Herman is a big advocate for visualisation, whether you’re a basketball player or a banker. In the same way that you should think through how many ways your presentation could go wrong, you should visualise how you’re going to behave as soon as you show the last slide, he says. For example, imagine your audience looking convinced by your argument. This will help you end your presentation gracefully.
4. Keep your presentation’s intention at the front of your mind.
Before you walk into the conference room or get up on the stage, remind yourself why you are giving your presentation, Herman says. Ask yourself what questions your audience needs answered so that you can emphasise those points as clearly as possible.
Even 30 seconds of meditation before your presentation can have a noticeable impact, says Herman. Big breaths through your nose down to your diaphragm and steady exhalation through your mouth slows down your heart rate and oxygenates your blood, reducing anxiety.
Herman gives clients who are new to meditation an exercise in which they set a timer for two minutes, close their eyes, and imagine the number one as a physical object. When their attention starts to shift, he has them imagine the number two, and so on. By the end of the exercise, they make note of the last number they thought about. With practice, Herman says, the number will decrease because you will learn to slow down the thoughts flying around your head.
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