The woman in the royal blue jacket sitting in the front row gasped when she heard my next request. “One at a time, please walk to the front of the room, plant your feet, smile, and say both your name and where you work.”
Easy, right? Simply stating your name and employer information doesn’t require a lot of thought, even under the most severe duress. Yet apparently, that’s what most of the 86 people in the room were experiencing – severe duress. How do I know? After everyone took their turn, I asked, “Who can remember two or more individuals’ names and companies?” Does it surprise you to note only the few individuals who went first were able to recall anyone else’s information? Why? Everyone else was too focused on their own upcoming delivery to be present and pay attention.
If you have anxiety about speaking in front of a group, you’re not alone. But it’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable because solid speaking skills support your career growth whether you’re presenting on a conference stage, in the boardroom, or one-on-one with a customer.
So, here’s seven strategies to support you in gaining confidence while building audience connection:
- It’s not about you! Rather than focus on yourself, place your focus on your audience. What do they need to know that you can shed light on? How can your information support them? When you come from a place of serving, you stress less by simply sharing the excellent information you’ve brought to the table.
- It’s about you! Okay, that sounds like a big fat contradiction, but what I mean is show up prepared. Don’t wait until the last minute to figure out what you’re going to say. Sales guru Jeff Gitomer states that people who are nervous are simply unprepared. As a professional speaker, I know this to be true. The more I “own” the presentation, the fewer nerves I possess.
- Go first. Rather than wait, stew, fret, and sweat, volunteer to present your information first or early on the agenda. Remember, taking action reduces stress. The bonus is you’re less likely to be judged or compared. And the bigger bonus? You might remember the rest of the meeting (see above)!
- Plant yourself. Before saying a word, feel your feet become one with the floor. When you feel supported and rooted, begin speaking. Add a genuine, warm smile and proper posture to project both confidence and approachability, putting both you and your audience at ease.
- Create a connection. Quickly build rapport through a personal story applicable to the audience. For example, an individual I recently coached was tasked with speaking to employees in a brand-new role. She chose to share a story about her first day at the company fifteen years prior and spoke to the emotions and uncertainty that occur with fresh starts. She quickly grabbed their attention through her examples and vulnerability. And the best part, she easily remembered her opening because it was HER story! Share YOUR story, which will get you over any nervous hump while creating more connection with attendees.
- Z Power. While you may be tempted to glue your gaze to your notes or fixate on a spot right in front of you, both are off-putting to your audience. Instead, practice the “Z technique.” No, I’m not talking about putting the audience to sleep (“zzzzz”), but rather drawing your audience in and being inclusive by moving your gaze through the group in a Z pattern starting at the back-left corner. If looking directly into someone’s eyes throws off your game, instead look at their forehead. Don’t worry, as they won’t be able to tell from where you stand!
- Gain confidence through action. After all 85 individuals participated, they realized the world didn’t come to a screeching halt. You will only get better at speaking by speaking! Rather than chicken out, say yes to making a presentation before a group.
While you may still experience some anxiety, remember speaking showcases your strengths and smarts, increases your memorability factor and builds deeper, richer connections. And memorable people who are connected get tapped for even greater opportunities and rewards. Why not you?