Overcoming the fear of presenting

JERRY SEINFELD, the comedian once famously said that, when at a funeral, most people would rather be in the coffin than reading the eulogy. Statistics show that up to 75% of people suffer from glossophobia (fear of public speaking), and I suspect many more simply dislike presenting in front of a room full of people.

The majority of accountants I work with share this sentiment.

Whether presenting in front of a room of ten or an audience of one hundred, public speaking can strike fear into the hearts of accountants who are otherwise extremely capable. However, the good news is that there are steps accountants can take that will help them sound and, most importantly, feel at ease during a presentation.

Nerves are a natural reaction that can be tamed both before and during your talk. By knowing your point and what the audience needs from you in order to buy into it, you can start with the confidence that what you are saying is of interest and relevance to them.

Using notes can also help calm nerves. While it has become somewhat of a taboo, it is extremely important for any presenter and especially an anxious one. Notes provide you with confidence and knowledge that you can always take a look at them to keep you on the right track, particularly if you pause for questions or give examples. They must be short and sweet – prompts to remind you to cover a certain point. 

One of the greatest betrayers of nerves is speaking too quickly. The solution is to make pauses. The best speaking style, from the audience’s point of view, is to speak at normal speed but with lots of pauses. If you do it effectively, they will seem unbearably long to you but the audience won’t even notice them.

Once you have practiced and mastered pausing, you next need to work on your eye contact. You can enormously reduce the effect of large audiences on your nerves if you look at individual people while you are speaking. Concentrate on one person for five to ten seconds, then look at someone else. You are, in effect, talking to a number of individuals in a real conversation and the rest of the audience is listening in. Pauses also help your audience consider the message and therefore hold concentration.

Lastly, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Smiling, maintaining eye contact and being conversational will help you feel more relaxed.

Many accountants may not have been born great orators, but this does not mean that you can’t become a good presenter. Remember, the audience is on your side, and mastering your nerves in the short term will help you give presentations that are composed and professional for the rest of your career.

Jack Downton is managing director of The Influence Business

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