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Overcoming Presentation Anxiety

By Martin Lieberman

When you need to give a speech or presentation, are you so nervous that you mumble and blow it? Fear not, with enough practice, the right words will come out.

One of the biggest tips we can share is to keep your presentation as short as possible so that your audience does not get bored.
Perhaps the most presentation experience you've had up until now, is?addressing fellow classmates and professors?at school. Reality check: the time will come soon enough when you'll have to present some research findings in a professional setting.

?"When you're talking to fellow students, you're assuming a more even playing field," explains Farrah Raskin, 24, a community educator for Temple Israel Center in Natick, Mass. "But when you're talking to your boss, you're talking with someone who presumably and ideally knows what you're talking about. And if you're going to make a presentation to enact some change, hopefully someone will be listening who can do something about it."

One of the biggest tips we can share is to keep your presentation as short as possible so that your audience does not get bored. Do not be afraid to condense your information into a short session and then hand out a longer information sheet at the end. Don't just talk to the audience; try to involve them in what you're saying. "You want people to walk away from a presentation really feeling like they understand what's going on," says Mike Goldberg, creative director for web development at Brodeur Interactive. "If there's too much information and you're just standing there talking at the audience, you're going to lose them."

Knowing your stuff
The most common presentations entry-level employees are asked to give tend to be based on research they have conducted. For example, in an advertising agency, the assistant account executive might research a client's market to know what the competition is doing, and then the findings would be used to help plan a campaign. Sure, this is a large responsibility for a newcomer to have, but the purpose of this kind of presentation is to bring the manager or team up to speed so that all can work on the same page.

When you are presenting research, even though it may be in an informal setting, think of your coworkers as your clients. It is just as important to impress them as it would be to impress a client, so take a similar attitude towards preparedness. Know your information. If you are well-versed in what you are presenting, and are prepared for anything, you will be able to answer any questions that come up.

When Alex Battles, 28, worked as a paralegal, he would often be asked to perform background research on a case and then present the client's options to his assigned lawyers. He says what worked best in those situations was documenting every fact and phone call so that there were no lingering questions. Before making the presentation, he wrote up detailed memos to share with the lawyers, and then went through them page by page so he could answer any questions on the spot.

In many cases, however, giving your audience such extensive reading material can detract from the presentation itself. It is often more impressive to use a program such as Microsoft PowerPoint to highlight the largest points and help you to keep the presentation on track. Just be sure not to put too much information in your slides. "The idea is not to take the attention away from you," suggests Gabrielle Pierre, 27, classified advertising manager for Financial Planning, a trade publication. "If you put too much in your slides, then you're basically just reading from them, and everyone else will do that too and won't listen to you." You can always share your PowerPoint slides with your coworkers later, or give them a detailed summary of your findings.

Overcoming your fear
Pierre, who also serves as a supervisor for three New York City chapters of the public speaking organization Toastmasters, recommends that if you are nervous about speaking in front of a group, no matter how small, you should practice doing your presentations in front of a mirror at home. "As strange as it sounds, if you watch yourself, you can see what everyone else sees when you're giving a presentation," she says. "Sometimes, when you go to give a speech and you have something to say, you're so nervous that you mumble and don't get across what you're trying to say. But if you know the topic and you've practiced it enough, the right words will just come out."

If you'd prefer practicing in front of an audience, an organization like Toastmasters is a good place to start. For only around $40 a year, you can join a Toastmasters chapter and learn from peers what makes a good public speaker. Toastmasters asks each member to give 10 speeches-everything from ice breakers to presentations to impromptu discussions on a previously unassigned topic-and the group members (usually around 20 people) critique each other. Chapters are everywhere-there are over 55 in New York City alone, some of which are sponsored by individual companies and restricted only to those employees.

"I'm a shy person, but I know that in order to communicate with my coworkers, I can't always be shy and expect people to just assume what we're thinking, or what we'd like to contribute to a meeting. Toastmasters forced me to stand in front of a group and take responsibility for a meeting," Pierre says.

Take Away?Tips:

1. Practice. Practice. Practice! Rehearse out loud and revise as necessary.

2. Visualize yourself giving your speech. Imagine yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear and confident. Visualize the audience clapping - it will boost your confidence.

3. Realize that people want you to succeed. Audiences want you to be interesting, stimulating, informative and entertaining. They don't want you to fail.

4. Don't apologize for any nervousness or problem - the audience probably never noticed.

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