What to do to get comfortable before you present

About seven years ago I was tasked with delivering a presentation. I hastily accepted as I felt it was expected of me in my role at the time and I saw it as an opportunity to impress my manager. However, I was so uncomfortable with the whole experience that I became a complete nervous wreck which resulted in a poorly delivered presentation – costing the company a major project.

More recently I was offered another opportunity to present, which I again accepted, despite that same uneasiness and discomfort in participating.

It got me thinking about how some of us sometimes just agree and say yes, without a clear thought process and little consideration for our position, capabilities or our level of comfort. Ever since my last incident, I have started taking a different approach which has served me well – so every time I present, I am more comfortable, allowing me to provide maximum value.

Most of us would be familiar with the concept of arriving early, climatizing to the room and networking with the audience before you present but in addition to that, here are some of the things I regularly do which help me position my comfort levels and have made my presentations a lot easier.

Decline without saying NO

If you feel a presentation topic is not in your area of expertise or you don’t feel comfortable speaking, don’t hesitate to refuse. Avoid saying the word ‘no’ and instead, explain that you decline the offer and why. Put some context into your reason so people understand why and ask for help. It creates conversation, an opportunity to collaborate on how to tailor something relevant and allows for better preparation, so you feel more comfortable.

Ask for things which make you comfortable

Ask for things which put you at ease. Personally, I no longer hide behind my anxiety, stutter and hyperhidrosis, so when I now present I always request an air-conditioned room and cold water. If I don’t feel comfortable, I cannot deliver to the level I am capable of and it’s disappointing for both the client and me. If you need something, don’t ever be afraid to ask for it. I find the client or event organiser is usually always happy to accommodate (providing you’re not asking for something outrageous!)

Ask how long you have

During client presentations we tend to book in a set block of time, say 30 minutes or one hour, and then assume that’s exactly how long we have. Always ask at the outset if you still have the allocated time as a client’s day may suddenly change and reduce their availability. By asking how long they have, it immediately builds good rapport and if we only have a limited time to present, we then won’t get cut off and are given the opportunity to summarise our key points to present effectively in the time allowed. If this happens, get straight to the point, let the client know you will reduce your original presentation to fit their needs, but also ensure there is time for some Q&A at the end.

Make it personal

Make it about THEM. If you have a personal story then be prepared to make it really personal so people can see you are being authentic, but don’t waste time. Make sure your story connects to what the audience is there for and is relevant to the subject you are presenting. Personalising a presentation is a great way to make you feel comfortable but always remember it’s not about you, it’s about the audience you are speaking to.

Keep it simple

Don’t overcomplicate things. Keep it simple. My friend and fellow speaker Dave Clare covers this concept in his book Simplified, and whilst his book talks about simplifying Leadership, the principle of keeping things simple still applies. When you keep things simple, it’s easier for you to keep a handle on what you need to say, lets the audience understand your subject and makes you feel comfortable presenting your topic.

Dive In

All said and done, you may even be offered an opportunity that forces you to step outside of your comfort zone and you need to Dive In (another good book by my friend and fellow speaker Rael Bricker) – so just go for it! If that does happen, take comfort in the knowledge that you have been approached to speak for a reason, ask for help so you can prepare yourself well and be confident in the message you deliver.

When you position yourself correctly it helps you feel more comfortable and in turn, provides the platform for you to make an outstanding presentation!