We’ve all given presentations at some point in our lives and chances are that we chickened out right before the big moment. Anxiety, shaking hands, weird breathing, the works- we get it.
In comes intuition, which demands practice. Practice that is deliberate, meaningful and effortful, because there is a world of difference between sitting in front of your computer screen and mumbling words off it and deliberately writing notes down while trying to rehearse.
If you are the kind of person who dreads presentations of any sort, you have come to the right place because today we’re going to discuss ways in which you can make your practice more goal-oriented and exciting, thus taking the pressure off your shoulders every time you have to deliver a presentation.
Psychologists talk of a term called “self-efficacy”, which, in simple terms means an individual’s belief about their own capacities to achieve specific goals. Why is this self-efficacy important?
Well, if you don’t believe in your innate capacity to attain something, how are you going to reach the goal of presentation that you have set for yourself? Increasing your self-efficacy is an important factor in contributing to your “I-can-do-it!!” attitude, thereby making your practice more deliberate, dedicated and meaningful.
Many people throw their hands in the air and surrender because the task is rather difficult or nerve-wracking for them. They believe that they’re not born with the innate capacity to be a good orator, so why even practice? Wrong. Research has shown that experts are made, not born.
Okay, we get it. The presentation is upcoming and you are already sweating. Before we jump into tips that might actually help you, it might be of importance to understand why must we practice in the first place.
The Significance of Practice
Do you know the benefits that practice has to offer us?
1. It helps to focus on the finer details of your presentation
2. Practicing automatically sets us up for success.
3. Infinite amount of research has garnered that the brain actually goes through a physical change in its structure, a phenomenon known as brain plasticity
Now that we know a little about why practice is important, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that if they’re nervous before a presentation, they must start practising ASAP.
Now, going back to one of the most popular phrases we heard growing up, practice makes perfect. Research has gone a step further to distinguish between practice and deliberate practice, something we discussed earlier. They have shown the link between practice and stellar performance. This means you need to bring about a change in the way you practice because only then will it yield sweet results. You have to be an active agent to bring about change.
A Quick BackTrack to Self-Efficacy
The first step to increasing your self-efficacy is realising that nothing comes easy to anyone. Even the most “gifted” orators need years of practice and sacrifice to reach the level they are at today. What does that mean for an individual who is not naturally gifted?
Having the innate capacity to excel and capitalising on it through dedication are two different things. You may have the innate capacity to be a painter but if you don’t work on your skill, you’re as good as someone without this innateness.
Secondly, there is always room for improvement. You may want to be an artist whose works are published in the best of exhibitions, but your artistic skills are subpar, to say the least. What do you do? Practice, practice and practice.
Guide to Practicing For Your Next Big Presentation
We’ve spoken about why practice is important, now we’re going to delve into how you can actually make it a fruitful experience for yourself.
1. Achilles Heel
Start by identifying your weak areas. Doing this will give you an insight into what you need to work on more. Is it eye contact that you struggle with? Is it making a good presentation that you find difficult? Or is explaining not your forte? Either way, once you identify your weak areas, the process becomes a cakewalk now that you have a concrete idea, thus making your practice goal-oriented.
2. Distinguish Between Practice and Deliberate Practice
Practice is merely browsing through a Google page with no agenda or structure in mind about the presentation or where it’s going. Whereas deliberate practice is charting out the structure of your presentation and working on it in the most minute way possible. Taking initiative in the practice phase makes a whole world of difference in the final outcome.
3. Get a Headstart
We cannot stress this enough! It sure is tempting to wait around till a few days just preceding your presentation because, well, you only have to put together a few slides right? Wrong. Presentations go much deeper than stringing together random slides on a fancy background, and the sooner you understand this, the more efficient and goal-oriented your practice can be. Getting a headstart like the tortoise in the race can do wonders for your success.
4. Have a Script at Hand
Again, it’s rather tempting to not have notes and trust yourself with the information you have to deliver. But what has been observed (out of personal experiences) is that having a script at hand will provide you with an immense amount of clarity and confidence. It also reduces redundancy and the tendency to use filler words like “ah”, “umm” and the likes.
5. Make it Interesting
Presentations. Do. Not. Have. To. Be. Boring!! People often confuse presentations with formal, serious content which in turn equates to boring and uninteresting and that’s where they go wrong. Sure, the content of your presentation might be formal but you can play around with it and make it as interesting as in your capacity. Doing so will you give some motivation in the practice phase.
6. Give Us a Hard Relate
Relating to content that you’re supposed to practice obviously makes it a whole lot easier to remember. The more similarities you can draw between yourself and what you’re learning, the more naturally it’s going to come to you. Besides, cognitive psychologists do claim that attaching personal meaning to content ensures that is recalled better. This means less chance of clamming up and forgetting on d-day.
7. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
We know it’s quite tempting to run through the presentation while practising, get done with it and move on to another task. But what really makes a difference is being mindful of the whole process. There’s a difference between practising five times and still feeling underconfident as opposed to just rehearsing mindfully twice and feeling confident to deliver in front of a whole crowd.
8. Watch and Learn
If you struggle with various basic intricacies of presenting, we suggest watching others present. This could mean a post-match cricket presentation or your favourite TED Talk. Either way, you’re watching someone present, and watching them will make you form a mental note of what works while speaking and what does not. From then on, you can incorporate these notes into your own presentation style. Once you’ve developed this, practising and delivering becomes a whole lot easier.
9. Don’t be Afraid to Experiment
There is no one-size-fits-all to presenting. It takes time and effort to come up with a presentation style, but it takes experimentation to realise that there may be other ways of presenting that suit you better. Try rehearsing the same presentation in different ways until you feel confident about one way.
10. Get a Mentor
Be it friends, parents, classmates or just someone whom you can really trust, ask them to guide you throughout your practice phase. Getting genuine and authentic feedback is crucial to growing out of your nerves.
11. Take Classes or Join a Public Communications Club
Taking classes with other people who tend to get antsy while presenting can help, in the sense that once you track your progress as a group, you are more likely to motivate each other and actually improvise there.
A crucial aspect of presenting is the audience. One must take this into consideration while practising so the actual delivery doesn’t make you feel more anxious than you normally would.
Gather an Audience
Rehearsing in front of a group of people is perhaps one of the best ways to get into character for d-day. It will help to contact friends, family or colleagues and have them seated in front of you while you deliver your rehearsal. This is particularly useful because it helps you train your eye contact and also pick up different cues from the audience.
Another great way to receive authentic feedback is to have every member of the audience fill out a feedback form comprising different criteria you wished to be evaluated upon. Transparency of this kind will give you a clear-cut idea about your strong and weak areas, thus allowing you to further build on that.
You can also practice audience presence by encouraging them to ask you questions at the end of delivery. This can be of great help if you’re often caught off guard by the audience’s questions.
What if there’s no Audience Available?
There might just be the possibility that you don’t have any audience to practice on. That, however, should not come in the way of your practice. Well, sure you might not get a feedback form, but if you have a set of cushions you can prop on the chair, your imagination can do wonders for you.
One particularly effective exercise might be to deliver your presentation, gauge what questions the audience might have, and answer them yourself. This way, you’re slowly setting yourself up for the questions the audience might have. This way you’re slowly setting yourself up for the many questions the audience might have, the thought of it which is rather daunting.
Additionally, you can also record yourself on camera and review it right after. Practising in front of the mirror is also a great idea, but it does have a drawback in the sense that you can’t go back and review your delivery.
Before we leave…
Now that you have incorporated the given points into your practice, you must remember that it is no one-size-fits-all approach. You might find that some ideas help you and some do not. That’s okay, it’s what you make out of the given information that matters. We would still underscore our thoughts by saying that practising religiously, as opposed to just practising, will take you where you want to be.