You’re standing at the front of the room and everyone’s eyes are on you. This shouldn’t be a big deal – after all, it’s just a simple presentation – but you’ve suddenly adopted a deer-in-headlights expression. Are you talking too loud? Too fast? You should slow down. What were you supposed to say next? You make a joke, an attempt at cutting through the tension you feel, and it doesn’t land. You are, quite thoroughly, mortified.
Any of this sound familiar? It does to me: I just described every presentation I ever made in college. Even now, the memories of those botched experiences come flooding back every time I’m asked to get up in front of a room. I’m sweating right now, just thinking about it.
I’m not alone. Here’s an encouraging statistic: Generally speaking, people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death.
Glossophobia, AKA speech anxiety, AKA please-don’t-make-me-talk-in-front-of-people, affects a whopping 90 percent of the population, with reactions ranging from moderate discomfort to genuine terror. This is disconcerting, considering just how much our personal and professional success hinges on our ability to communicate well.
A recent Logitech survey, conducted by Wakefield Research, found that 61 percent of office professionals in the U.S., 62 percent in the U.K., and 68 percent in the Australia believe their salary would increase if they were a stronger speaker.
Anyone who climbs up onto the TED stage makes it look easy. TED presenters are conversational, articulate, and – as described by editorial director and curator of the TED Institute, Bryn Freedman – simultaneously ”relaxed and powerful.”
These two adjectives might seem at war with one another, but the best presenters have learned to walk the line between both, appearing calm and comfortable while still commanding the attention of a room.
“Confidence is as contagious as nervousness,” said Freedman, who spends her days teaching others how to express said confidence while speaking in public. “Discomfort speaking in public is common and human. Even the most experienced TED speakers feel that fear. Walk out there confident and prepared and your audience will believe in you.”
I sat down with Freedman to learn how someone like me, who comes off nervous and inarticulate in most (read: all) high-pressure situations, can learn to remain poised and powerful while giving a captivating presentation.
1. Body language is, in fact, everything
When it comes to getting an audience to trust and listen to you, non-verbal communication is crucial, and presenters should use their body language to show the audience they’re worthy of the attention.
“If you’re speaking to more than two or three people, make sure you stand,” Freedman advised. “Square your hips to the person you’re addressing. Don’t make yourself smaller. Take up space.”
This is especially important advice for women, who are typically socialized to sit and stand in ways that minimize them: Crossing their legs, tucking their ankles, tilting their bodies to be at an angle while standing, and so on.
2. Changing your body language takes time – so practice, practice, practice
It’s one thing to say that you’re going to adopt stronger body language, but the minute you put yourself in a stressful or unfamiliar situation – like, you know, addressing a crowd of people – your body will shift to what feels natural. If you want to appear powerful on stage, you need to adjust your posture in real life, too.
“You have to practice this all the time. You cannot just save it for the presentation. You have to be standing that way at the coffee shop, the post office, the bank,” Freedman said.
You can perform some exercises before your presentation to gear yourself up, as well. Freedman referenced a 2012 TED Talk by Amy Cuddy, in which Cuddy explores the way our body language influences our perception of ourselves. By adopting “power positions” and holding them for several minutes, we can trick our bodies and brains into believing we are confident and powerful, even if we don’t feel that way.
3. Prepare or be prepared to fail
There’s a reason stage performers do full dress and tech rehearsals before opening night; it’s not enough to just read through the script and hope for the best.
Freedman suggests anyone preparing for a speech mimic the conditions of the actual speech as much as possible to prevent getting caught off guard while on stage.
“You’re going to be standing when you’re giving the presentation, so when you’re practicing, stand up and read it out loud,” she explained.
Freedman also emphasized the importance of thoroughly knowing your facts, because there’s no such thing as “winging it” and nothing can save you if you go in blind.
“You need to think about the audience that you’re giving this for, what do they know, where do you start off with this conversation? How much work have you done in advance to know who you’re speaking to? Do your research,” she advised. “Be so in charge of your information and knowledge that they can’t help but listen.”
4. Don’t let your slides be a distraction
“Putting complicated text on a slide is a surefire way to get people to stop listening to you,” Freedman explained. “They’ll read the text on the slides and stop listening to what you’re saying.”
She emphasized that slides must always be punctuation for your own words and never deliver critical information that you yourself could have spoken. Text is OK, but keep it simple.
5. Be excited about your topic
According to Freedman, the worst thing you can be during a presentation is boring.
“If you’re boring, it means you haven’t prepared enough or you don’t care enough about your topic. There’s no substitute for your own excitement and energy and enthusiasm,” Freedman urged.
If the contents of your presentation aren’t inspiring you, that means you’re presenting the information wrong –– or you shouldn’t be presenting in the first place.
Rework your presentation until each sentence thrills you, and that genuine excitement will shine through to your audience.
“If you are there in a way that is not authentic, everybody remembers that. People won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.”
Public speaking isn’t easy, and while it might come more naturally to some people than others, it takes commitment and practice to master. With that in mind, TED and Logitech have partnered to create the Spotlight Presentation Academy, a 1-day bootcamp to give participants the skills and confidence to crush every presentation.
They’re looking for 15 aspiring storytellers to join the summit, at which they’ll be coached by Freedman herself and work with some of the latest presentation technology, including the Spotlight remote from Logitech, which – take it from me – ain’t your mom’s old PowerPoint clicker. Participants will also have the chance to present their own talk on the New York City TED stage on July 17th.
And guess what? Logitech and TED want you to apply. You have until May 22 to head to the Spotlight Academy website to upload your short video describing your biggest public speaking challenges, the big idea you’d like to share and how better presentation skills would impact your life.. The academy will announce its participants on June 6.
“A great presentation is like a great road trip,” Freedman told me. “You’re with a super confident driver who created a trip just for you. It’s full of surprises. You don’t make a million stops, you take a couple of thoughtful stops along the way. You take the most direct and scenic route, and when it’s over you want more and you were glad you went.”
Leave a comment below to enter to win a Spotlight presentation remote from Logitech.
Even if you don’t get to attend the academy, you can still win the latest technology to up your presentation game. Leave a comment below telling us a time you’ve had to speak publicly and we will choose 5 winners to receive a Spotlight presentation remote. You must enter by May 24, 2017 at 11:59 PM CST.