Public Speaking

6 Steps to Overcoming Stage Fright and Giving a Presentation Everybody Listens To

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There are two types of people in the world: Those who are scared stiff of giving presentations and those who love them.

I fall into the latter category. I have loved engaging an audience since I was a kid acting in school plays. Throughout my professional career I’ve enjoyed delivering keynotes, participating in panel discussions and doing broadcast interviews. I’ve always been a bit of a performer and, let’s face it, giving a presentation is a form of performance.

Related: The Do's and Don'ts of Giving a Killer Presentation

Today, a big part of my job is coaching VMware executives on the content and delivery of their keynotes. A great stage presence and effective communication are key. It’s important that we land our message while also keeping the audience engaged.

Here are my tips for preparing and delivering great talks by any presenter speaking on any topic.

1. Look at the big picture.

Think about the overall story you want to tell and how you want people to react. What’s the big takeaway? How do you want the audience to think and feel after your presentation? This is essential whether you’re presenting to 10 people or 1,000.

There’s a lot of science behind storytelling. People tend to absorb information through crisp, compelling storytelling. A good story will connect with them and influence their behavior. There are several models for structuring a story. The one I like, which my team helped develop when I was at Microsoft years ago, is the 7 Elements of Storytelling.

Think of the movie you love most (for me it’s always James Bond), and I bet you’ll find each of these elements. The stories in your presentation should follow the same arc, including the “heroes”, the tension and the inciting incidents.

As you move through your presentation, insert mini-stories to illustrate your overarching story. Begin by stating the point of a story and then fill in the details afterward. That way, the audience will understand the gist without getting lost in minutiae. Humor is good, so long as it’s not over-the-top and that the audience understands it.

2. Seeing is believing.

When I worked at Microsoft in the U.K., Sean Malone, founder of a production company called Yellowspanner, helped transform the way we did internal presentations through visual PowerPoint storytelling. The key thing to remember: less is more. Shoot for about 10 slides in a 30-minute presentation. That’s plenty.

Use slides with pictures instead of a lot of words. The more text you have on a slide, the more your audience will be distracted from what you're saying. They’ll be too busy reading.

Slides with pictures to match your words support your narrative. If done in a smart way, they will raise the impact of your presentation quite a bit.

Related: 4 Secrets to Giving a Great Marketing Presentation

3. Tame your happy feet.

Don’t wander around on stage. The more you walk around, the more your audience will follow you around rather than listening to what you have to say.

For each of your messages, it’s best to stand still, slow down and project. Walk around in between key talking points and while describing less important details. Drop an anchor when you come to your next important message.

The best way to reach an entire room is to think about communicating to the back row. That way, you will naturally amplify your speech.

4. All about dynamics.

Alternate your vocal tone and use pauses and pacing. During key passages, slow down and amplify your speech. Then pause and let the point resonate in the silence of the auditorium before moving back into a conversational style. Unless it’s a very serious topic, smile. Be yourself throughout the presentation. Act like you're having a conversation with a colleague.

5. Keep it in your head.

Avoid using index cards as a prop. They usually result in presenters appearing stilted and less confident. You don’t need to remember each and every word. Memorize key talking points and then the bits in the middle will take care of themselves.

Of course, the best way to make your presentation perfect is to practice. Write out a script. Talk out your presentation in front of a mirror or a smaller audience, such as a group of trusted friends. Record a video of it and study how it looks and sounds.

6. Disaster proofing. 

Sometimes, things don’t go according plan. Years ago, I was doing a demo with Bill Gates at a conference in front of 1,000 CIOs. I had to put a talking point on the overhead, but instead of pressing “print preview” on the computer, I hit “print.” The document was a couple hundred pages. The computer froze and wouldn’t let me stop it. Needless to say, it was quite embarrassing.

When something like that happens, smile and keep your composure. If an audience is fidgety and has a short attention span, just stick to your plan. There’s not much you can do to fix a presentation in the moment. You’ll be fine if you've prepared well, understand your audience and thought carefully about the story you want to tell.

The bottom line is, enjoy being on that stage. That is your moment in the spotlight. Embrace it.

Related: 8 Pro Secrets to Delivering a Knockout Business Presentation