How To Get Rid of Stage Fright before Your Next Presentation


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Fear of public speaking is a crippling thing to work with, which is why Stanford communication professor, Matt Abrahams has explored the root causes of public speaking fear and comprised strategies for overcoming that anxiety. In this paper, figure out where your stage fright comes from and how to combat it properly in order to present with confidence.

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How To Get Rid of Stage Fright before Your Next Presentation

  1. 1. How To Get Rid of Stage Fright Before Your Next Presentation By Matt Abrahams©Matt Abrahams
  2. 2. Introduction Your credibility is your only currency when you present in front of others. If your audience does not trust you, then, no matter how engaging and important your message is, it will fall on deaf ears. In less than a minute, your audience forms impressions of you and your credibility based on what you say and how you say it. You must immediately establish your credibility to have a chance at successfully achieving your presentation goals. At its essence, credibility is about the knowledge you possess — about both your topic and your audience — as well as your confidence. The purpose of this paper is to explore these credibility components. We begin by examining how what you know enhances your credibility, then shift to how you can appear and ultimately become more confident in communicating by managing speaking anxiety. Finally, we address common pitfalls that undermine credibility. Credibility = Knowledge + Confidence©Matt Abrahams
  3. 3. Knowledge of your material Domain expertise is critical to establishing your authentic credibility. Often, your expertise is what gets you the opportunity to speak in front of your audience. However, with expert knowledge comes the potential for losing your audience. Many knowledgeable speakers make assumptions and use terminology that their audiences don’t understand or can’t follow. You must understand your audience’s perspective.©Matt Abrahams
  4. 4. Knowledge of your audience Your job is to be in service of your audience. As a presenter, your audience’s needs are paramount. To be effective, you must understand (a) your audience’s expectations for your presentation, (b) their experience with your topic and (c) their points of concern and resistance. You must be motivated by the question, “What does my audience need to hear?” rather than the question, “What do I want to say.” Your knowledge of your topic and your audience comprise the first component of credibility. The second critical component is your confidence.Confidence Attitude and anxiety influence perceptions of confidence. Most speakers – upward of 85 percent – report being nervous when presenting. Managing this anxiety is key to confident and compelling delivery. Rather than get anxious over your nervous symptoms, greet your anxiety as a normal, reasonable response to delivering a presentation. Until the underlying cause of your anxiety is addressed, you are merely addressing symptoms. Applying anxiety-management techniques designed for the source of your anxiety is the key to confidence building.©Matt Abrahams
  5. 5. Root causes of anxiety and how to address them Situation-based anxiety Situation-based anxiety is fear that arises from the context in which the presentation is being delivered (e.g. a formal conference room with all eyes on you). Root cause: You see your presentation as a performance. Management technique: Reframe the situation as a conversation. Audience-based anxiety Audience-based anxiety is fear that arises from who you are speaking to (e.g. your executive management team). Root cause: You’re intimidated by the status, expertise and experiences of your audience. Management technique: Visualize your speaking situation in advance of speaking. Goal-based anxiety Goal-based anxiety is fear that arises from the objectives your presentation is trying to achieve (e.g. sell your product or get funding). Root cause: You’re concerned about the future consequences and ramifications. Management technique: Deliver your presentation while present-oriented.Taken together, your knowledge and confidence directly influence your audience’s perception of your credibility.©Matt Abrahams
  6. 6. As we have discussed, there are many things you can do to bolster your credibility in your audience’s eyes. In addition,though, we need to make sure that we do not invoke certain behaviors that can insidiously reduce our credibility.Specifically, we must avoid some common pitfalls, such as perfectionism, heavy reliance on slides and procrastination.3 pitfalls that perpetuate a perceived lack of confidence 1. Perfectionism: setting incredibly high and often unattainable standards Result: Paralysis due to fear of all the possible things that could go wrong Management technique: Create and enact contingencies. 2. PowerPoint, Keynote, et cetera: confusing a slide deck for a presentation (the illusion of progress) Result: Too much time spent designing slides rather than structuring and practicing Management technique: Develop an outline and practice delivery prior to adding aids. 3. Procrastination: choosing to put off work Result: Greater anxiety during “crunch time” and less practice time Management technique: Publicly commit to a schedule and reward yourself.Your audience forms impressions of you in less than one minute. These impressions guide their receptivity to yourmessage. It is therefore critical to establish yourself as a credible and engaging speaker. By appreciating the role yourknowledge and confidence have in influencing your audience’s perceptions, you can take active steps to becoming acredible, authentic and compelling presenter.©Matt Abrahams
  7. 7. About Matt Abrahams Matt  Abrahams  is  a  passionate,  collaborative  and  innovative  educator  and  coach  who  teaches  Strategic   Communication  for  Stanford  University’s  Graduate  School  of  Business  and  Presentation  Skills  for  Stanford’s   Continuing  Studies  Program,    while  also  teaching  at  De  Anza  College.  He  has  published  research  articles  on   cognitive  planning,  persuasion,  and  interpersonal  communication.  Matt  recently  published  Speaking  Up  Without   Freaking  Out,  a  book  written  to  help  the  millions  of  people  who  suffer  from  anxiety  around  speaking  in  public.   Additionally,  Matt  developed  a  software  package  that  provides  instant,  proscriptive  feedback  to  presenters.       Prior  to  teaching,  Matt  held  senior  leadership  positions  in  several  leading  software  companies,  where  he  created   and  ran  global  training  and  development  organizations.  Matt  received  his  undergraduate  degree  in  psychology   from  Stanford;  his  graduate  degree  in  communication  studies  from  UC  Davis;  and  his  secondary  education   teaching  credential  from  SFSU.  He  is  currently  a  member  of  the  Management  Communication  Association  (where   he  recently  received  a  “Rising  Star”  award)  as  well  as  the  National  and  Western  States  Communication   Associations.  ©Matt Abrahams
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