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How to overcome nerves to produce the perfect presentation

Written by: Ruth Fenton
Published on: 4 Jul 2016

Not all lawyers are linguist masterminds who quickly think on their feet and love performing in court. At a recent return to work course attended by around 30 lawyers, 90 per cent of the room put up their hand when asked if they didn’t like or were scared of public speaking.

Public speaking is not on top of most people’s bucket list, but the apprehension can be overcome to make it fun and bearable. Here’s how.

It’s all in your psychology. Changing your mindset changes your performance.


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Let’s break this down. Your boss has asked you to speak to a room full of top clients. You feel sick, your hands are shaking, your mind is thinking: What if I screw this up? Am I going to forget my words Will I look like a complete numpty? Chances are, with this mindset you will. Why? because you are giving yourself a safety net to fail, so you can prove yourself right to justify your thoughts.

In turn, this creates a physiological reactions in your body: sweating, shaking, dry mouth etc. It’s a vicious circle.

Someone once said to me “It’s not about you, it’s about the audience and how you make them feel.”

The fact is, people don’t remember much of the actual words you say, but do remember how you make them feel. Have you ever been at the theatre and people have given a standing ovation as the performance was amazing? Do you remember any of the words? Probably not, but the performance moved you in some way. From these two insights you can plan your perfect pitch, interview, presentation, appearance on TV, or whatever it might be.

Following these four simple steps will boost your confidence and help you achieve an outstanding performance;

1. Learn from the best. Is there someone who you admire as a speaker? Maybe it’s a motivational speaker, news reporter or pop star? Watch and listen to them carefully to see what they do to move you as a listener.

2. The chances are you have been asked to speak about something because you know something the audience doesn’t. This should give you confidence.

3. Carefully planning your message and practicing it will make a perfect performance. In a nutshell, start with the end in mind. What do you want people to think and feel at the end of your presentation? Tailor your message accordingly.

Keep it simple: a maximum of five key points backed up with an example for each. Avoid PowerPoint and data dumps. Really think about how you can engage the people you are talking to.

Now take out your phone or video camera and record your presentation. Write down all the things you did well. Then pick one thing you need to change to make it better. Do it again – how does it look and sound this time? Keep practicing and recording. Now show it to a friend or colleagues and ask for their feedback. If they can recite at least three points you have made in your presentation, then it’s getting the message across.

Remember, as lawyers we tend to be perfectionists and judge ourselves more harshly. So when we think the recording is okay, chances are you’re ready for the real thing!

4. It’s a good thing to feel nervous before going on stage because it gives you energy and a spark. You actually come across better and more authentic. This bit is important: you need to channel the energy to speak from your heart not your head.

Before going on stage or into an interview take five deep breathes. This gets more oxygen to your brain so you can think better. Shaking your fingertips also releases nervous tension. Visualise yourself giving the best performance ever and walking off feeling amazing, with people chapping and congratulating you. Positive thoughts creates positive actions. Feelgood hormones are released in to your bloodstream which make you happy and more relaxed.

In summary, change your mindset to focus on others not on yourself. Speak from your heart to be authentic and enjoy yourself!