Confidence is the main component of a successful presentation. This premise is easy to state and accept—it is not so easy to work out how to build up your confidence. However, it is worth a try.
- Knowledge. Know your material thoroughly and take time to check the facts and verify source. Do not agree to present subjects you only half know about, no matter how tempting and persuasive others are. Be clear about the one big issue you are going to present. Get the scope right so you are not sidetracked and go off on aimless tangents when researching and compiling likely material to support your ideas. It is not just knowledge, it’s ‘knowledge of what exactly?’ that you should be asking yourself at the outset.
- Time. Put enough time into the task of preparing your material—“It always takes longer than you expect’ (Hofstadter’s Law)—and aim to complete your rough script/slides with a couple of days to spare. You need time to ‘sit on it’ without doing anything, to let it sink into your mind naturally. Remember how you used to cram for exams right up to the last minute and how you later felt?
- Congruity. Make sure your words, tone of voice and body language are congruent, particularly if taking a strong position and expressing your own feelings and attitudes. According to Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus of psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, people rely more on the combination of what they see and hear than on any text alone. They look at slides, so do not read your slides—the audience does that—refer them to the point you are making and talk them through it. Always aim for simple structures so listeners find it easy to follow. Reiterate points in a different form of words to reinforce your message.
- Practice. Take an example from theatre actors who learn their lines and rehearse their actions. Although you don’t memories your lines, practicing them out loud nevertheless builds a familiarity, not only with the words and ideas themselves, but also with how each part links with the next. Good linking controls the pace of your performance. This constant working through also helps you measure the timing of the presentation—and being aware of these invisible clues leads you seamlessly through your mental script. Only Icarus was dumb enough to “wing it on the day.”
- Attitude. You are not going out there to fail. You are not there by chance and you have not left anything to chance. Everyone in the audience wants to hear a good presentation, to be entertained and stimulated. Start from that premise and believe in your ability to deliver it. You have agreed to present in order to demonstrate that you can communicate your ideas clearly to others—allow this simple idea to lodge in your mind.