Preparing to address seniors at the New England School for Financial Studies on the topic of “Executive Presentation Skills,” I came to a conclusion – presenting isn’t fair.
If you read all of the tips, tricks and statistics, it’s easy to see why people find presenting intimidating. Beyond being a subject matter expert (which is reasonable), a presenter often needs to be art director, usability expert, and performer.
There are many ways a presentation can go wrong – badly organized, badly designed, badly presented – but I believe what prevents many from stepping up to give speaking a try is fear. (Turns out most people list public speaking as their greatest fear – over death or a zombie apocalypse). As one who suffered from stage fright throughout my teen years, I totally get it.
But learning to be an effective speaker can have long lasting career benefits, in part because it allows you the opportunity to demonstrate to supervisors and senior executives the ability to organize and communicate your ideas effectively.
For those concerned a bad presentation may cause career damage, let me tell you a story shared with me by a community bank president. Speaking to a board of directors early in her career she managed to knock over the podium while popping most of the buttons on her blouse. Unaware of her state of undress, she ended her presentation with the words “I need to get something off my chest.”
Clearly, this speaking fiasco didn’t slow her down. So how do we get over our fear and step up to the mike?
Start with the idea there is a reason you have been asked to speak – you have something to share. Take confidence in the fact that you probably know your subject matter better than the majority of people in the room.
Consider your audience, and remember most of them think public speaking is more frightening than death! Chances are, they will be grateful for your contributions (and that it’s you and not them standing in front of the group).
And my favorite piece of advice – focus on being present, not perfect. Your passion and subject knowledge are your greatest asset, don’t be afraid to use both.
Learning to be comfortable speaking publicly takes time and practice, starting with the first time you say yes. I’m hoping after today’s session, some of the seniors will start taking a chance on public speaking.