Presentation Predicaments: Tips for Successfully Giving a Speech

August 3, 2015

[blend images/corbis]
[blend images/corbis]

Polls often cite “speaking before a group” as Americans’ No. 1 fear.

The fact that it regularly outpolls scenarios such as death, illness, snakes, spiders and taxes surprises a few business speakers, but hardly all. I’ve yet to see a subsequent study that has provided a contradictory or superseding conclusion.

For many executives, speaking before peers — people who you think may know your subject as well as, or better than, you do — is the scariest of the scary.

Insecurities abound: Will they think I’m a fool? Will I make some horrendous error? Will they consider me a bore and a waste of time?

This fear exists in both in-house and external presentations. Several auto equipment manufacturing executives whom I recently trained in Illinois told me that they particularly dreaded addressing industry groups. I’ve heard the same thing from people in other professions throughout my career.

Adopting the right mindset

How can you conquer these fears and have a successful outing? Here are some tips:

  • Since nobody knows everything about any subject, there’s a good chance that you’ll add to the knowledge-base of everyone in the room.
  • You will also very likely provide some perspective to what they already know.
  • You may help them reinforce their own positions when they speak to others.
  • The fact that you are speaking to this group will help build your recognition and reputation.


Conquering the nerves

But how do you overcome the anxiety that naturally accompanies such a talk? Here are some suggestions:

  • Have a presentation that is carefully prepared and fully rehearsed. You will be less nervous if you are confident in what you are about to say.
  • Rehearse in front of a camcorder and analyze your strengths and weaknesses on playback.
  • Watch your pace. Speaking too fast is a sure sign of nervousness, and it subsequently makes an audience anxious.
  • Work in some questions that you will answer yourself, such as, “Why do I recommend this?” This technique keeps an audience engaged and can make the speaker feel more at ease.
  • And, if you’re comfortable with using humor, then use it. Just be sure you’re good at it, and that you fully rehearse and confidently deliver your funny lines. Successful humor relaxes both the audience and the speaker.

Most important, don’t let yourself be intimidated. I once gave a presentation to PR professionals on crisis response, only to find out later that three people in the audience had written books on the subject. I’m glad I didn’t know that before I spoke.

But if it happens again and I do know beforehand, I’ll be checking these notes and remembering these tips.

Virgil Scudder
Virgil Scudder is the author of “World Class Communication: How Great CEOs Win With the Public, Shareholders, Employees, and the Media,” which received an Award of Distinction as one of the best business books of 2012. Email:


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