According to some often quoted statistics, the fear of public speaking is even more gripping and debilitating to some than the fear of death. While this is most likely due to the fact that public speaking is a much better known and common experience than losing one’s life, it’s still no secret that most people get at least a little nervous when it comes to talking in front of a crowd. Even those who aren’t frozen with fear can have a tough time when it comes to making a cohesive and interesting presentation, even with the encouragement and support that a liberal arts college provides.
However, there are some useful tips and tricks that, while they won’t completely eliminate your fear of public speaking, can help you deliver a great and rousing presentation confidently and engagingly. Liberal arts courses offer excellent opportunities to overcome public speaking fears, with smaller class sizes creating a safer and more forgiving environment to improve your skills.
Go Light on the PowerPoint
There’s nothing that can bore people to tears more easily than just reading paragraphs of text off of a PowerPoint presentation. Renowned presenter and tech guru Guy Kawasaki says that your presentation should contain no more than 10 slides, last no longer than 20 minutes and have font no smaller than 30 point. While this isn’t a hard and fast rule that can apply to every presentation, the general theme of less reliance on big chunks of text and tons of slides is widely applicable. Use your slides as a launching point for what you’re going to talk about - if you're just going to read from a big pile of text why even bother presenting?
There’s nothing worse than making a reference to slide B or video A and then realizing – whoops, it’s not there. Test everything well before you get up there and start talking as there’s nothing that will stop a presentation in its tracks like a missing slide or a non-existent audio clip. Chances are the surprise will throw you off and you’ll have a hard time getting back on track.
Practice, Practice, Practice
This absolutely cannot be overstated. Practice is about 80% of what will make your presentation effective. Even if you have the greatest, most inspiring speech ever lined up, if it’s unpracticed and you’re flubbing words, stumbling around sentences and mispronouncing things, it’s going to fall flat. Practice your presentation frequently – recording yourself and listening for areas where you’re having trouble is a great way to identify what needs work.
Ultimately, what matters is that you maintain your focus, breathe deeply, and try not to worry so much. An important part of a liberal arts degree is speaking openly and fostering discussion, so take advantage of these opportunities to prepare yourself for overcoming your stage fright. Nobody is born a perfect presenter - it takes lots of practice!