Speak well under pressure

 Oct 21, 2015

Speak well under pressure by controlling your jitters and by changing your attitude

For my post most today I want to share with you some techniques and approaches that will help you become a more effective speaker, especially when you are put-on-the-spot.

Speaking under pressure, or thinking on your feet, is based on being able to quickly organise your thoughts and ideas, and then being able to convey them meaningfully to your audience to modify their attitudes or behavior. It applies to formal speeches as well as everyday business situations.

It requires presence of mind, goal orientation, adaptation, and judgment. It also requires differentiating between oral and written communications.

Slight nervousness is normal for anyone, especially the first few times you make a presentation or speak in public. These jitters can actually help you and give you an edge, and everyone has a few of them.

Counteract nervousness by:

  • Visualising your speech going really well
  • Relaxation exercises (deep breathing, music)
  • Physical exercise

The secret you want to learn is not necessarily the confidence that comes from experience, although that helps, but a change in attitude.

When you learn to shift your focus from yourself to the audience, you will be on your way to getting rid of your fear.

Nervousness has two sources.

One is the constant stream of internal negative comments that nags speakers when they begin to think about the presentation. ("I wonder how I'll come across this time? Last time I made a presentation, I was sure everyone was laughing at me when I had so much trouble with the equipment”.)

The other source of tension comes from hyper-responsibility. The presenter feels that he or she alone is responsible for the reactions and well-being of everyone in the room.

Think about it this way: you believe in what you're saying. You're prepared. In fact, for this presentation, you're the only person who is so well prepared. Your audience needs to know what you have to say.

Change the words you say to yourself from negative messages to more positive ones. List your concerns on a sheet of paper before the presentation. Then, for every negative message, substitute a positive one.

For instance, if your negative message is, "I'm a nervous wreck”, write, "I can channel this nervous energy into the presentation and give a more enthusiastic performance”. This effort may take numerous repetitions, but eventually it works.

The second kind of nervousness (taking responsibility for everyone in the room) can also be fought. Come to terms with the fact that everyone in the room will not necessarily accept your ideas.

It's not your job to please everyone. Your job is to get your message across in clearly understandable terms to the people who must have the information.

Concentrate on the decision maker(s) and on those who respond positively to you. Forget the others.

Because it is hard to counteract nervousness if you do not feel in control of the situation, take time before the presentation begins to put yourself in control.

  • Allow plenty of time to check out the room and equipment.
  • Start on time. Unless the decision maker(s) in your audience is delayed, don't wait for stragglers. Delaying will make you and your audience fidgety.
  • Greet people as they come in. Chat casually with people you know until it's time to start.
  • Eliminate any physical barriers that stand between the audience and you. If you're behind a table or lectern, move away from it. Don't cling to the podium or your projector.

Orderly Sequence of Ideas

By putting your ideas into some orderly fashion, it will be easier for you to remember and easier for your listener to grasp your ideas.

  • Study: Break your ideas into simple, basic components.
  • Separate: Present each component separately.
  • Move Forward: By building momentum successively with each component, you gain and keep your listener's interest.

This is another way of being prepared and controlling your jitters.

Don’t fall into these ‘presenter’ traps

Be aware of these four ‘presenter traps’.

  • Derailment: Somebody asks you a question and you lose your train of thought or head down another path, never to return to the path you originally planned to travel.
  • Rocky Mountain Road: Your presentation has no real theme or plan. You just lurch from point to point. Neither you nor your audience is sure whether you will arrive at the end of your presentation.
  • Roller Coaster: You make a good strong point, followed by a more obscure point, back to a strong point again, rather than starting with your best shot and working down to the details, or starting with the details and working up to your main point.
  • Whirlpool: You say the same things over and over again, without getting anywhere or presenting new information.

Apply these approaches and techniques to your presentation practice and you will notice a real difference to both your formal and informal speeches.

To learn more presentation skills and leadership skills, take a look at our Professional Development course portfolio.

Take good care, and try and make people feel glad, not sad, scared or mad.

Stan Thomas

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About the Author:

Stan Thomas  

Stan has been working in a professional training capacity for over 15 years and possesses a wealth of knowledge in the areas of adult education gained through both formal study and practical training delivery both nationally and internationally. As the Professional Development Manager for New Horizons Melbourne, Stan is responsible for the delivery, quality control and enhancement of existing and new programs at New Horizons.

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