Give Fear the Boot

By Heather Baldwin

Studies show that 95 percent of us are natural introverts and assume other people are in some way better than we are. No wonder sales presentations can induce dread! Still, you don’t have to be in that lucky 5 percent of the population to give a confident, articulate presentation. All it takes is learning a few tricks, says Mary-Ellen Drummond, president of Polished Presentations International in Rancho Santa Fe, CA, and author of Fearless and Flawless Public Speaking.

First, says Drummond, recognize that fear and excitement are psychologically the same – adrenaline flows, you may sweat, your hands may get cold and clammy. Making those sensations work in your favor simply requires changing your thinking from negative to positive. For instance, “Instead of, ‘I hope I don’t blank out,’ think, ‘I know I’m going to remember everything,'” says Drummond. In other words, think about the results you want, not what you don’t want. Why? “If I say, ‘Don’t think about a yellow school bus,’ you’re going to think about a yellow school bus,” explains Drummond. She recalls the story of a former client who gave a student-election speech when he was in college. His first note card, a reminder to himself, read, Don’t Panic. “Well, what did he do? Of course he panicked,” says Drummond. “He should have written, ‘Be Confident’ or something positive.” It sounds so simple, she adds, but “it’s amazing how well this works.”

Second, look at every interaction as an opportunity to practice your speaking skills. The post office, in line at the grocery store, your next PTA meeting, wherever you can speak, think of it as presentation practice and zero in on fixing specific problems. Do you fidget a lot? Focus on keeping hand gestures to a minimum. Do your sentences tend to trail off? Concentrate on confidently completing every sentence. Got trouble with eye contact? Work on that. “Every time we leave a message or interact with someone, people are judging us,” says Drummond. So fix that fidgeting problem at the post office where it doesn’t count and you’ll be able to confidently stride into your next sales presentation where it does.