Fear Not

By Malcolm Fleschner

You’ll hear all kinds of wacky ideas for reducing pre-presentation jitters: imagine the audience members naked, race up and down a few flights of stairs just before going on, gulp down a bottle of cough syrup – the problem is, none have been proven to work. So, what does work for sure to keep those butterflies at bay? Preparation and practice, says Marjorie Brody, president of Brody Communications, Ltd. But they’re not the same thing, she’s quick to add.

“The preparation process is really analyzing whom you’re talking to,” she says. “Know the audience and where they’re coming from. Make phone calls and talk to some people in advance – and suddenly you’re not presenting to strangers. By talking to people in advance you find out where they’re coming from and they find out how much you care. What you’re really doing is creating a relationship with your audience before you present.”

In addition to getting acquainted with the audience, Brody says that preparation means familiarizing yourself with the venue and likely surroundings before a presentation.

“Be very clear about the logistics and the parameters involved,” she emphasizes. “How many people are going to be there? Mentally visualize positive things. What’s the room going to look like? How much time do you have? These are the types of things that will help you be at ease when it comes time to actually stand up before an audience.”

Whereas preparation means considering all the details going into an effective presentation, practice means working on your delivery. And practice you should, says Brody.

“Practice out loud, not just in your head, where you’re always eloquent, but out loud because it gets your timing down and it gets the flow down,” she explains. “It also allows you to practice using your notes, so you can say: Heck, if I can’t read this here in my home, how am I going to read it in front of a group when I’m already nervous? Literally stand and practice. And if it’s a particularly important presentation, tape record it and ask yourself: Would I want to sit through that? And if the answer’s no, then you need to rework your presentation.”