Insight writer and English/EAL teacher Niki Cook shares some handy tips for managing performance jitters and acing your oral presentations.
If the idea of speaking in front of others fills you with trepidation, rest assured that you are not alone – the fear of public speaking afflicts an estimated 75 per cent of the population. While the severity of this fear can vary, there are strategies you can use to manage it. In today’s post, we look at ways to deal with nerves and to build your confidence in preparation for an oral presentation.
Before the presentation
One reason public speaking can seem so daunting is because it isn’t something that we do regularly. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to speak in front of people, whether it’s giving a presentation in class or offering to speak to a group of younger students about something that you are involved with. Don’t feel that you have to start big; practising your public speaking can begin with something as simple as volunteering answers when a teacher asks questions in class.
The earlier you can prepare your presentation, the better. Starting ahead of time will give you ample opportunity to practise and refine your work without the threat of a looming deadline. Once you’ve finalised your speech, you should rehearse it as often as possible – practice really does make perfect. The oral presentation isn’t a memory test, but the better you know your speech, the less likely it is that you’ll need to read from your cue cards or become flustered and lose track of where you are up to. It’s also important that you practise in front of an audience, so make use of anyone you can – family members, friends and even pets!
Don’t be afraid to use technology to your advantage. Set up your phone or GoPro in place of an audience and record yourself delivering your speech. Watching your performance is a great way to assess your use of volume, rhythm and, importantly, body language. Are your gestures appropriate to the material you are delivering? Are you using them at suitable times? What about your physical presentation? Is your hair covering your face? Do you fiddle with your glasses or clothing throughout your speech? All of these things can undercut or distract from the impact of your speech and should be addressed early on, before they become habits.
Know your audience
Most of our fears around public speaking stem from being nervous about how the audience will react to the presentation (for example, whether they will be bored or judgemental). Before you start to worry, remember who you will be speaking to and keep this in mind as you practise; the oral presentation is delivered in front of your teachers and fellow students – a largely supportive audience who want you to succeed just as much as you do.
On the day
Okay, so the dreaded day has arrived and now it’s your turn to speak. Best to get it over with as quickly as possible, right? Wrong! This is one of the most common errors that students make and can have major implications for the success of your presentation. Speaking quickly is generally counterproductive, as it often causes the speaker to stumble over their words and lose track of what they’re saying. It also risks ruining your hard work. By this stage, you will have done the research, prepared your arguments and structured your speech for maximum impact. That’s all well and good, but if your audience can’t properly take in the points you’re making, your speech will be much less effective than it might have been.
Fake it till you make it
Even if you have put in the preparation (and practised in front of an audience), it’s only natural to feel nervous on the day. If you don’t feel confident, however, you can still appear confident. Here are some final tips and tricks for keeping your nerves in check and projecting confidence on the day of the presentation.
- Look at your audience’s foreheads, rather than their eyes. This enables you to give the illusion of eye contact without the added pressure of the real thing.
- Just before you present, take three slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. This will help to calm you down and reduce some of the common symptoms of fear, such as a rapid heartbeat.
- Visualise success. This technique is commonly used by athletes preparing for big competitions. Picture a successful presentation, focusing on all of the senses (what it will feel like, what you will hear, what you will see). Practise visualising this scenario in the lead-up to the presentation and just before you present. By focusing on a positive outcome, rather than thinking about potential negatives, you will help to set yourself up for success.
While there are aspects of the oral presentation that might appear daunting, this task will help you develop an important life skill that you can draw on in the future. Be confident in yourself and what you’re saying – if you sound assured and engaged in your topic, then it’s likely that your audience will be engaged, too.
Need extra help preparing for your oral presentation? Insight’s English Year 12 2nd edition and English Year 11 2nd edition by Robert Beardwood and Argument and Persuasive Language 2nd edition by Melanie Napthine include chapters on presenting a point of view that outline how to research and prepare; how to plan and write; how to present; and how to write a statement of intention. Sample SAC responses, with sample statements of intention, are also included.
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