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Presentation With Pizazz

How to overcome your fear of public speaking

Q: My business is such that I'm required to make presentations, either one-on-one or to small groups. I usually have someone else do these presentations for me, but as my business grows, it's getting more difficult to find someone who has the time. Plus, by now, I should be doing my own presentations, but I still haven't gotten over my fears or nervousness. Am I in the wrong business, or is there some way to learn how to do what seems to come naturally to everyone else?

A: In reality, terrific presentations don't come naturally to most people. There has even been a published report that claims more people say they're afraid of public speaking than say they're afraid of death. But I promise you, after nearly 25 years of training people to make presentations and giving hundreds of presentations to groups large and small, I haven't known one person to die from speaking in front of a group. In fact, it can be lots of fun, and it's a vital part of building many types of businesses, including yours.

The three factors that make or break a presentation are content, structure and presentation style. The best way to conquer your trepidation is to polish up on all three. Start by writing a complete script or detailed outline of the content of your talk, making sure to create a benefit-oriented presentation that contains valuable information. Consider what your audience is hoping to gain from your talk, and center your message on how your prospects will benefit from accepting your proposal. The structure of your presentation should flow logically from beginning to end, without digressions or omissions. Try to anticipate the questions you'll receive, and structure your script to allow for audience interaction.

Next, memorize and rehearse your presentation. The best way to polish your presentation style and eliminate any bad habits is to use a video camera to tape your rehearsals, then watch the tapes critically, looking for signs of nervousness or stiffness. For example, grinning, grimacing and repeating a single word or gesture, such as shifting from one foot to the other or saying "um" over and over again; speaking excessively slowly or quietly; speaking in a monotone voice; or staring at the floor all convey nervousness to your audience.

Once you spot your problem areas, practice your talk until you're comfortable that you've overcome them. Watching the videotape of your newly polished presentation style should give you the confidence to begin making presentations on your own.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.
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