In business, your next presentation could change your life. Delivering a successful presentation could mean landing a major new contract, better prices for your services or getting the funding you need. Failure can mean lost customers and a business that never gets off the ground.
With so much at stake, it's important to stay calm and perform your best. The next time you deliver a business presentation, keep these five important things in mind:
1. Identify your anxiety.
Speaking publicly probably isn't what's making you afraid. Normally it's something else: fear of criticism, rejection, forgetting or the unknown. Maybe you even have post-traumatic stress from a past speech gone wrong.
All of these issues generally center around one idea: I'm afraid, I can't handle failing at this presentation. Once you see what you're truly afraid of, and that you'll survive even if you mess up, the fear can subside.
Focus on how you need to be in order to execute an outstanding presentation. Start by being confident.
2. Keep it short.
Believe in your ability to tell an effective story with a powerful, knock-out punch line. Your audience will appreciate brevity.
I often speak publicly, and when I do, I also get to listen to other presenters. The most memorable are the ones that hit an emotional chord with a tight story and a punch line. No fluff. Keep it creative and concise. Greatness exists in quality, not quantity.
3. Listen if criticized.
Nobody wants to be heckled. As you prepare your speech, it can be easy to imagine someone interrupting you, shouting out what your mind is already telling itself: He lacks experience. He didn't prepare enough. How did he get this job?
In the book, Smart Talk (St. Martin's Griffin, January 2013), author Lisa B. Marshall explains how to handle criticism. "It's important not to disqualify the statement or get defensive. Instead, listen, reflect, and evaluate the comment, then try to move the conversation in the right direction."
Ask some clarifying questions. Listen to the answers. The conversation will get specific enough to address. If so, answer, and then move your speech back on track. If not, remember that you can't please everybody, the moment you focus on that, you'll no longer have a business that stands out.
4. Embrace the unknown.
Prepare for excellence, but acknowledge that even if you practice, surprises can happen. You may have to stand in last-minute for a partner or boss with no time to get ready. Anything is possible.
The good news is that your audience wants you to finish the speech. Some came to your event just to hear your presentation.
Instead of fearing the unknown -- all the bad that can happen -- realize that good things can surprise you as well. Talk to your audience. Opportunities can arise when you listen to their concerns that can lead the presentation toward a better outcome than you planned.
Winners -- athletes and speakers -- prepare beforehand, but they also grasp opportunity when it appears.
5. Just get started already.
Four sets into a timed workout, and I'm just standing there -- staring at the barbell. Speaking can be a lot like exercise: The more time you spend getting ready, the more you mentally build the task into something larger than it actually is.
Once you've started, a lot of the stress goes away. And when you're done, you'll have accomplished your goal. So, take the leap and bet on yourself.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.