Breaking Free: 4 Things Nervous, Over-Preparing Presenters Can Do to Calm Down and Engage

October 10, 2016 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Myths Debunked, Nervousness, Preparation, Presentation

Nervous presenter hides behind sheet of paperI recently delivered a workshop for eight very nervous presenters. They were a great group and talked very frankly about their worries and concerns about presenting. Their nervousness stemmed from different things. For example,

  • One of the presenters hated being the center of attention, so speaking to groups increased her anxiety.
  • One was a non-native English speaker, unsure of her word choice.
  • A few of them worried about losing their train of thought and spacing out during their presentations.
  • Others felt intimidated by their audiences, having just moved into new roles requiring presentations to leadership.

While the causes of their nervousness were unique, each of them had developed the identical coping strategy—they all over-prepared. Each of them set out to nail down what they planned to say before the presentation began. Everyone scripted, most rehearsed, one found himself trapped in analysis paralysis as he struggled to make sense of marketing data.

As we’ve written here and here, this type of preparation, often purported to be the best way to reduce nervousness, doesn’t work in the business setting. What happens, as I saw with each of these presenters, was that they cut themselves off from their listeners. By relying on scripting and detailed notes, their presentations became monologues delivered by uncomfortable actors.

Along with their nervousness and tendency to over-prepare in reaction to it, this group shared another characteristic. When they were being videoed, they were completely unaware of themselves. I don’t mean this in a bad way. It wasn’t that they were unaware of bad habits. On the contrary, they were unaware of how good they were. After each person was videoed for the first time, their response to the question, “How did that feel?” was some version of, “That was terrible.”

  • “That was terrible … I had no idea what I just said.”
  • “That was terrible … I felt my voice shaking and I stumbled on my words.”
  • “That was terrible … I was so nervous I know I spoke too fast and just went on and on. I didn’t know when to stop.”

The thing is, the rest of us didn’t see any of this. Even though they were speaking off the cuff, none of the workshop participants appeared disorganized, unclear, or particularly nervous.

What was the takeaway from this? There were three.

  1. Never assume preparation will reduce nerves or guarantee success. What you need to do, especially if you’re a nervous presenter, is prepare for flexibility. Think about alternative explanations, different ways to make the same point.
  2. Greater flexibility builds confidence. If you’re familiar with our methodology, you probably guessed that each of these presenters defaulted to the Writer side of the Orderly Conversation. Writers tend to worry a lot about being accurate enough, about saying things they planned to say. They need to trust themselves more.
  3. As counterintuitive as it might be, it’s your connection to the audience that reduces nervousness. Begin your presentations by focusing on the individuals in the audience. Really see them and how they are responding to you. This will make your presentation feel like and be more of a conversation. It’s pretty much impossible to engage listeners when you’re reading or reciting a script. [Tweet “It’s pretty much impossible to engage listeners when you’re reading or reciting a script.”]
  4. There’s always a difference between how things feel to you during your presentations and how they appear to your audience. Sometimes this difference is slight. Sometimes it’s huge. With this group it was the latter.

At the end of this workshop, one of these presenters said something that made my day: “What I’ve learned today is that I can do this. I don’t have to worry so much.”

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Why We Do What We Do (Part 3 of 4)

April 29, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Posts for Buyers, Presentation, Training

A Discussion of Turpin Communication’s Core Principles:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4

Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin CommunicationThis is the third in a series of four posts focusing on Turpin’s core principles. In the last entry I talked about how every presenter brings a Default Approach to the process and that understanding what it is focuses your improvement. In this post, I’ll focus on what it means to be engaged in an Orderly Conversation.

It seems that everyone is talking about engaging people these days. Businesses use social media to keep customers engaged. Managers want their employees to be fully engaged. Trainers want to engage learners. Each of these uses of the word have to do with how someone else (the customer, employee or learner) responds to something you do. It has to do with motivating them or maybe just keeping them interested.

We use the term to describe what happens when a two-way interaction begins. When presenters engage in conversation with their audience, they are not pouring information into passive listeners. They are not merely grabbing that person’s attention. An engaged presenter initiates a genuine connection with the audience. Both presenter and audience member share a moment in time, both equally engaged.

This level of engagement brings the audience into the conversation, of course, but it also affects how the presenter feels and thinks. Engaged presenters are able to think and speak spontaneously because they are reacting to the people they are speaking to, just as they do in everyday conversation. This, in turn, makes presenters feel confident and comfortable.

It’s for this reason that all presenters, especially nervous presenters, need to take command of the skills that help them engage. Once the conversation begins, the anxiety, self-consciousness, and second-guessing associated with nervousness melt away. You are able to stay focused and rein in the discomfort and distraction of nervousness.

So by focusing on engaging listeners in the conversation, we accomplish two things. First, we help presenters develop the skills they need to work through their nervousness. Second, we release presenters from the generic, prescriptive rules found in traditional training classes. Engaged presenters trust themselves to be confidently self-aware and in control.

Part 1Part 2, Part 4

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”