According to The Eggleston Group, “Far above the fear of death and disease, comes fear of standing in front of a crowd.”
So true—many sources report that the number one fear among professionals is the fear of public speaking.
If you think you’re the only one of your peers who gets stage fright, think again! No matter what your position is in your firm or organization, at some point you will be called on to deliver some kind of presentation to clients, customers, or to your fellow employees. Not all of us want to be a Dale Carnegie, but learning just a few presentation tips and tricks can definitely help you sweat just a little bit less and improve your self-esteem.
Know You Will Make a Mistake
Even the most experienced trainers, educators, and salespeople make mistakes when they present. That’s OK! Your audience may not even notice. Learn to laugh at yourself. None of us is perfect. Technical issues arise, voices waver, and glitches happen.
Keep in mind that when you are presenting technical information such as accounting and tax—and your audience is comprised of other accounting professionals, or even customers and clients—you want to make absolutely sure you have accurate information. Otherwise, you can be certain someone will correct you, which is unpleasant as it is embarrassing.
What you need to realize is that everyone is human and everyone makes mistakes. As long as you realize that you are going to make some kind of mistake during your presentation, you will find that you are much more at ease and can relax.
Connect With Your Audience
How are you with eye contact? If you are shy and find it difficult to maintain eye contact for more than a few seconds, take note of these tips.
A poor presenter is the person who does not have eye contact with his or her audience. We’ve all attended presentations where this happened. You may remember a few of your professors who did the same thing. What was your impression? Did you think the presenter truly cared about what he was presenting or was just going through the motions?
You want the audience to know that you are passionate about the subject but maintaining eye contact to a handful of people can be more difficult than presenting to 500. Here are some pointers:
Small Audience Presentations: Eye contact will establish you as an authority or expert. While your audience may have a hard time maintaining eye contact with you, try your best to take the high road and look each person in the eye, at least for a few seconds. Then repeat this over and over. What you’ll also do is make your audience feel very much at ease and more comfortable. Once they do that, you will become much more trusted and even a bit revered.
- Large Audience Presentations: Experts say it is far easier to present to large audiences because intimacy is no longer a fear factor. However, eye contact, here should also be maintained. How do you do that without looking all 500 people in the eye? It’s easy. Look toward their general direction. No one will say to you later that you actually did not look them in the eye. Try it—it really works!
Get Rid of Distractions
Don’t think you’ll have any distractions? Trust us … you will. Most of us are easily distracted by even the smallest interruptions. Here are some tips on how to prepare for these:
- Cell Phones—Not everyone remembers proper cell phone etiquette during a presentation. Just say at the beginning of your presentation, “I would appreciate it if you would turn off or silence your cell phones, and if you need to take a call or receive a text, please step outside. Thank you very much.” No one will be offended by your request.
- Texting—Now that the cell phones are silent, texting may run rampant. If people want to text, they will find a way to do it. Don’t let this distract you. As the British Government was so fond of saying during World War II, “Keep Calm and Carry On!” Maintain your flow.
- The Interrupter—Undoubtedly, there will be someone in your audience (no matter how large the audience is) who will raise his or her hand and question your expert knowledge. While you can’t control human behavior, you could ask the audience to hold its questions and comments until the end. Hopefully, you have made time to take questions). If the person persists, then call on him, try to answer the question, and move on. If he interrupts again, then tell him, very calmly, “I would really like to have your opinion about what I’m covering, but with respect to the rest of the audience, can you please hold your questions until the end?” Remember, it’s up to you to control your audience, but you don’t want to have anyone take over. Stay on point.
Rehearse. Make the time.
This step is all about being prepared, and if you’re not, your audience will know right away. Pretty soon … the interrupter will take over. Be proactive and prepared.
You don’t want to rehearse so much that you seem over-rehearsed, but you also need a firm grasp of what you are presenting. Some of this has to do with agreeing to speak on topics you know about. If you were asked to present a lunch-and-learn on franchise tax and you are in audit, that would clearly be outside your area of expertise. You’re much more interesting when you speak about a subject that you are truly passionate about.
Some speakers talk about speaking in front of a mirror … others present to their spouses, significant others, and even their pets. Whatever way works for you—do it. This is also a great time to practice eye contact. Avoid reading your slides. Use key words and practice until your presentation flows.
Some CPAs may also need some tips on how to format presentations in PowerPoint or other presentation software. There are quite a few Internet resources; a quick Google search found these:
Remember: You are in control of your presentation. You control the tempo, tone, and the information presented. You know what you’re talking about; you just need some confidence along the way. Take the time to prepare, rehearse, and address any technical issues before your presentation. Relax. Learn to think of your presentation as an opportunity for knowledge sharing. Practice will make it easier. You may actually learn to enjoy it. Becoming a good presenter will help you become a better leader, too.