Are You Ready for Live Presentations Again?

Pitching on Zoom isn’t the same as in-person. Here are five steps to get back into live-presentation shape
By: 
Matt Reesor
A neon sign that says "hello" on a wall

You may have experienced it already. If you haven’t yet, you soon will. Thinking about it may cause you stress and anxiety. By it, I mean facing a live crowd of fellow human beings—in person. Your first foray back to in-person presentations may be a basic update around a boardroom table or a high-stakes pitch in front of a live audience. Regardless, after a year and a half presenting via screens, often from the comfort of our home offices, the prospect of speaking live in front of a room full of colleagues or clients is understandably daunting.

I often tell my students that presentation skills are like muscles. The more you use them, the stronger they get. Put them on a shelf too long, and they weaken and atrophy. Presenting in person isn’t the same as presenting online. Some of the muscles involved are different. And we’re all out of practice.

But here’s some good news. You can get back into live-presentation shape sooner than you think. Follow these five steps and you’ll be wowing audiences in no time.

Step 1: Acknowledge where you’re at

Accepting that you’re out of practice may help relieve some of the pressure you’re feeling. Remember: You’re not alone. We’re all feeling the same way.

Step 2: Examine your strengths

If you’ve never done a self-inventory of your strengths as a presenter, start that process now. Think about past live presentations that went well. What specifically did you do to make them a success? Was it your knowledge of the content or a particular structure that you employed? Perhaps you were able to leverage your voice and body language together in tandem to command the room. Or maybe it was your slide deck design and Q&A preparation that won the day.

Reminding ourselves of past successes is important. High-level athletes work with sports psychologists to learn visualization techniques so they can perform at their peak in competition. Much of this work centres around harnessing memories of past top performances to power future ones. So, cast your mind back and remember your successful presentations in as much detail as possible.

Step 3: Reframe your areas of challenge

When thinking about your past presentations, don’t ignore weaknesses. But rather than viewing presentations that didn’t go well with fear and regret, try seeing them as opportunities for improvement. This is sometimes referred to as cognitive reframing wherein you change how you think about a situation to alter its emotional impact.

For example, rather than beating yourself up about the fact that you used too many filler words or spoke too quickly, try reframing it this way: “I know I sometimes have the tendency to use filler words and my pace is often too fast. I am grateful for this valuable knowledge as it means that I am in the enviable position to consciously take steps to make progress on these issues and become a better presenter.”

In this way, you’re engaging in positive—rather than negative—self-talk. Research, particularly studies on emergency medicine, has found that to effectively manage pressure and optimize performance, we need to train ourselves to increase positive self-talk and minimize, if not eliminate, negative self-talk. 

Step 4: Take care of yourself

Another tip when preparing for your next in-person presentation is perhaps an obvious one. Ensure you’re doing your best to manage your health in the days leading up to the event. Think about your nutrition, sleep and exercise. To the extent that you’re able, try to put any personal stressors on the back burner. Our bodies can only cope with so much stress at one time, so try to avoid a possible overload.

Step 5: Practice, practice, practice

Your success as a presenter will ultimately come down to planning and practice. Do yourself (as well as your audience) a favour, and avoid winging your first live presentation back. Think carefully about your purpose and key takeaways. Engage in a thorough audience analysis to ensure that your content and presentation style match the needs of the room. Rehearse in front of a live audience of trusted peers, friends and family to re-familiarize yourself with what it feels like to present your ideas in person.

One more thought

While a return to live presentation can feel daunting, we must relish and cherish the opportunity to be with others in the same room again. It’s a privilege to share our ideas with our colleagues and clients face-to-face. We’ve all suffered from a lack of human interaction over the past 18 months. Your next presentation is something to celebrate as you do your part to bring us all together again.

See you in the boardroom!

 

Matt Reesor is an expert on professional communications and the director of the full-time MBA program at Smith. He helps emerging and established leaders present with impact as an instructor on Smith graduate programs and Queen’s Executive Education.

Photo: Unsplash/Adam Solomon

Smith School of Business

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Kingston, Ontario
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