Whether you’re the founder of a small business or the CEO of a huge establishment, leading the conversation in a weekly department meeting, or moderating a panel discussion at the annual industry conference that everyone’s talking about, can be intimidating for some.
To overcome the fear of presenting, continue to participate and practice at low-stakes events with every opportunity that comes your way. By doing so, you’ll become a skilled, sought-after, and successful thought leader in no time.
Below, 15 Fast Company Executive Board members share their best techniques to help leaders reduce the signs of nervousness and deliver effectively during virtual (or on-site) discussions.
1. GET RID OF YOUR NOTE CARDS.
Don’t use note cards. Instead, study until you know the subject forward and backward so that when you speak to the audience it feels like you are excitedly talking to your friend about the subject matter. Be proud of what you are going to say to your friend because you know you’ll be convincing. – Alice Hayden, H2 IT Solutions
2. INCORPORATE REAL-LIFE STORIES.
Include a few stories, real-life examples, and fun facts to make it a more interactive experience. Practice your content in front of family or friends to build up your confidence and improve your delivery. I always enjoy presentations with more visuals, bullet points, or polls for easy reference and higher engagement. Remember, you are the small-mid-size enterprise expert who is helping others. So be confident and have fun! – Gayatri Keskar, Material ConneXion
3. KEEP PRACTICING.
It sounds simple, but practice makes perfect! Go through your materials and talk track the week leading up to your event. Then, practice in front of your spouse or friend. Remember, no one knows the materials better than you do, and if you mess something up it’s unlikely anyone will know other than you. Lastly, consider the likely objections or questions, and ensure you have your responses prepared. – Blake DeCola, Brado
4. PICTURE SUCCESS.
Try closing your eyes and picturing yourself delivering a successful presentation. Then focus on the visualization that it will go well and manifest into a successful outcome. Practice some deep breathing techniques to calm your nervous system down. – Kathy Leake, Crux Intelligence
5. DON’T BE AFRAID TO MESS UP.
Even professional speakers make mistakes. Own it with humor. Be sure you’re knowledgeable about the topic you’ll be speaking on. If you get off track, you still maintain credibility. If you can, use the speaker’s notes feature on most presentation programs in a format that makes you feel comfortable so you can get back on track if you lose your train of thought. – Hannah Fryer, Brambling & Co., LLC
6. DON’T BE WORRIED ABOUT THE AUDIENCE.
7. TEACH WHAT YOU KNOW.
You can overcome public speaking nervousness by speaking about the things you care about most. If your topic isn’t something you love, you can still find an angle that’s important to you. When you’re passionate about your topic, it shows in your delivery and people will be more engaged. You’ll also be less likely to get nervous when speaking in public because you’ll be intent on the actual message. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner
8. CREATE AN OUTLINE.
9. TRY AN AUDIO-ONLY EVENT.
If you’re uncomfortable about speaking publicly in person or on video, start with an audio-only event. Join a Twitter Space or Club House discussion around a topic that you feel you’re an expert on. Doing several sessions allows you to practice in front of strangers you can’t see, without the uncomfortable visual distraction. You will find your rhythm and even meet new people to network with or learn from. – Bill Nottingham, Nottingham Unlimited Ventures, LLC
10. SIGN UP FOR STAND-UP COMEDY.
Kid you not, I once signed up for a stand-up comedy course. The final assignment was to deliver a stand-up routine on stage at a local club. Candidly, it was one of the most challenging speaking engagements I’ve ever had, though the stakes were low because it was just for fun. Still, trust me, if you do this, it will help you gain confidence and put future speaking engagements into perspective! – Camille Preston, AIM Leadership, LLC
11. FOCUS ON GRATITUDE.
Master your content and manage your stress. Accept speaking opportunities that cover topics that you know very well or that allow you to share a personal story with key lessons learned. Prior to the event, manage your stress by saying: I am excited (instead of: I am nervous) about your talk, and take five minutes to only have thoughts of gratitude for a positive mindset. Gratitude will destroy fear. – Andreea Vanacker, SPARKX5
12. CHOOSE A PERSONAL TOPIC.
Find a topic that you are passionate about, it doesn’t have to be about work, it might be top tips for Pokémon Go or cooking unexpected taco combinations. Then explore the best ways for you to educate others about the topic. For example, speaking on a pre-recorded podcast, webinar, or YouTube channel could be helpful. Build confidence in speaking about what you love and apply it to all aspects of work and life. – Val Vacante, Merkle, a dentsu company
13. DETERMINE YOUR OWN STYLE.
Recognize that it is a learned skill and you are not alone in your nervousness. After doing this many times, I’ve learned that everyone who does this well has their own preparation style and plan which evolved from practicing and doing. Solidify your style and prep and repeat the process which will help you feel more confident and deliver a better presentation. Do not decline an opportunity. – Paola Doebel, Ensono
Take your time to prepare and practice a lot. You might need to learn that presentation by heart, that’s okay as long as it makes you feel more confident. Another thing to focus on is your breathing. One simple technique is to breathe in on a count of four and breathe out on a count of eight. A couple of rounds of that are sure to calm your parasympathetic nervous system. This is human biology. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
15. RECORD YOURSELF ON VIDEO.
Practice, practice, practice—there is no substitute. Videotape yourself, be willing to watch, and be self-critical. Watch presentations of people whose style you admire and discover what you like about what they are doing. Identify specific behaviors that work, and start to adopt them. For example, eye contact, body language, use of visuals, how they dress, and how they connect with audiences. – Amy Radin, Pragmatic Innovation Partners LLC