So, you want to become a better presenter? Most people do. And I can give you tips on how to use your voice, and body, and words to deliver a better speech. But it wouldn’t be dealing with the real issue, because chances are, presenting makes you nervous.
Fear of public speaking is the number one ranked fear.
As Seinfeld joked, “Given a choice, at a funeral most of us would rather be the one in the coffin than the one giving the eulogy.” But from my experience, people don’t fear public speaking, they fear the idea of public speaking.
When my students have to deliver speeches, the one presenting isn’t the most scared, it’s the one who has to go next. The anticipation. The thoughts of all the things that could go wrong. And if they go wrong, the embarrassment they’ll feel.
All of that pre-presentation fear is quite enervating. By the time it comes for us to actually speak in public, we’re exhausted.
So how do we improve our public speaking? Ironically, by working less on how to improve, and more on how to be okay with being terrible.
We fear embarrassment. We fear not having the perfect presentation. If you can be okay making mistakes, if you can be okay not being perfect, then you’ll fear it less.
You’re not perfect.
Many people try to become perfect presenters. Perfectly-planned pauses. Perfect hand movements to emphasize points. Perfectly-articulated perfect words, delivered with perfect volume and pitch. And it’s impressive. But it’s not always human.
When it comes down to it, the goal of a presentation is to connect and communicate with your audience. It’s not about saying stuff. It’s about making sure that stuff resonates with others.
Flaws make us human. If you flub a word, it’ll seem like a fail. But that “fail” might make the audience laugh and relax, and see you as a human being with flaws, just like them.
Mistakes are gifts.
In improv, a lot of the fun and play and surprise comes from those moments where we “mess up.” The more you do it, the more you realize, messing up isn’t that bad. Many of the exercises are built around helping adults (who’ve been through schools and society constantly telling them to be “right” all the time) learn to play again. Learn to have fun and enjoy what they’re doing.
Can you get to the point where presenting is fun? Hell yeah. I did. And I used to hate presenting. Or talking. Or even leaving the house.
Be YOU. Flaws and all.
You don’t need to present a better version of you. You just need to be you. And if you’re thinking, “But the real me is nervous as hell and I want to be a better version of me,” well, that thought is going to keep you nervous.
When you’re chatting with your best friend, you stop thinking, “How do I say and do the best things?” You just relax and be yourself. That’s where you want to get to with presentations. And trusting that you’re good enough as you are is the first step.
–Cam Algie is Professor of Play at Play with Fire Improv, professor (Presentation Skills) at Seneca College, and instructor and lead facilitator of the Improv for Anxiety program at Second City Toronto.