You’ve been asked to deliver a presentation to your company’s Board of Directors. For a split second, you’re overcome with joy and delight. The high-profile, high-stakes opportunity will afford you the occasion to demonstrate your skills and value. A few short seconds elapse before your nerves set in. Your heart starts racing, your palms grow sweaty, and you can sense yourself trembling.
Public speaking is a nerve-wrenching affair. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74% of individuals suffer from speech anxiety. The fear of public speaking (Glossophobia) tops spiders, and even death, as Americans' biggest fear. Yet public speaking is an essential business skill. A survey conducted by Harris Interactive found that 70% of employed Americans who deliver presentations agree that presentation skills are critical to their career success. As an executive, effective public speaking skills can open the doors to many career advancement opportunities.
1. Summarize at the onset
High-profile executives are a tough crowd. They are typically time-strapped and don’t want to see their time wasted. They shirk at the thought of sitting through a long presentation waiting for a “big reveal” moment at the end.
When building and organizing your executive presentation, begin with a summary slide. Start with a succinct report of your high-level takeaways and recommendations. If you start your presentation with a bang and engage your audience from the get-go, you'll gain confidence to soldier on with a strong sense of conviction. The structure of your presentation should be: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.
2. Leverage gestures and mannerisms
The vast majority of communication occurs via nonverbal cues and behaviors. Embedding natural gestures and mannerisms in your executive presentations is a sure-fire way to establish a stronger connection to your audience. A study published in the Leadership & Organizational Development Journal found that individuals who fail to use their hands or use awkward hand movements when delivering presentations are more likely to be pegged as cold and aloof by their audience. Being labeled as cold and aloof will only increase your nerves.
Failing to incorporate natural gestures and mannerisms can prove especially detrimental for top executives. A 2015 study spearheaded by Elizabeth Blankespoor of Stanford University and colleagues found that executives who leveraged competent-looking gestures and mannerisms when speaking at pitching sessions were more likely to boost their company's share price throughout the course of an IPO roadshow.
3. Develop a pre-presentation ritual
Top executives develop and perfect a pre-presentation ritual as an antidote for nerves. They perform a series of activities to achieve a state of peak mental and physical alertness. Some strike power poses to gain confidence. Some use meditation and visualization techniques. Some perform short bursts of exercise to curb their cortisol levels. Some even don a lucky pair of socks or underwear. Creating a pre-presentation ritual will allow you to find comfort and confidence in the familiar.
There's overwhelming evidence that effective presentation skills are closely tied to career trajectories. An executive coach can help you transform your speech anxiety and negative thinking into positive energy. Visualization, meditation, relaxation, and breathing techniques can prove transformational in terms of helping you deliver more dynamic and engaging presentations. Don't let your fear of public speaking jeopardize your ability to climb the career ladder. You're much better off cringing at spiders.
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner