One of the best ways of building your profile is to speak at events. These could be internal events or external events. In fact, clients will often require you to present at a pitch for a large piece of work. Which means it is absolutely in your interest to become an effective and confident presenter. So, how come so many of us would rather have our wisdom teeth removed without anaesthestic? The presentation nerves, which can literally make us feel sick to the stomach, can often be the stumbling block to most of us who have to present as part of their role.

 So, I asked Guy Clapperton, a good friend and professional speaker (Fellow of the Professional Speaking Association) about how to eliminate those presentation nerves. Over to you Guy:

Probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever been asked by anyone who’s thinking of speaking in public or being interviewed is “how do I eliminate the errs and umms”. This tells me a number of things. First, they have never seen me speak. I’m full of those things, all the time – I do it on radio, I do it on TV and I do it on stage in person. My media training sessions, which typically last four hours, would be stilted and artificial if I worried about those trimmings too much.

People are intelligent and filter out a load of stuff. You’ll be amazed at what they don’t hear – in every day conversation we hesitate, we repeat, we umm and err a whole lot and people don’t register it. Getting hung up on that will add to, rather than subtract from, your nerves. Anyone in any doubt should just look at how 2012 was for Boris Johnson, Mayor of London; he makes a virtue of being slightly shambolic, appears unable to get a full sentence out but we all know what he stands for, whether we agree with him or not, and his personal popularity is through the roof.

To my mind people are better concentrating on the content – what they’re actually going to say, and never mind how they’re going to say it. Key to this is preparation. Have a note of a few points you want to make, and always, always start with the audience as your focal point rather than what you might want to offer them. Yes of course I want people to read this and book me as a speaker or speaking coach; however, if I’d said that in my first sentence very few people would be reading by this third paragraph. Concentrate on the people to whom you’re talking and what you need them to take away before anything else and you’re likely to have a successful event on your hands.

It happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I’d pitched the idea of a training/mentoring session for public relations executives and contract publishers on how journalists like me can misunderstand corporate assignments – our interpretation when they ask for ‘independent’ writing, for example, why we won’t write headlines unless prompted (not usually part of the journalist’s job), and so forth.

Before the event I dropped a quick email to the participants and asked whether there were any specifics they wanted covered. Four of them wrote back and asked about how to make press releases stand out, whether journalists used social media – in other words, nothing to do with the course as pitched. So I prepared around what they’d asked for rather than what I’d intended, and within an hour of finishing one of them had put a note on Twitter about how much they’d enjoyed it. It wasn’t the session I’d planned to put together (it was a load easier for me, as it happens) but it turned into a better one with happier attendees.

So, prepare, find out about your audience, talk to them in advance if you can. Then accept that they’re as keen to have a good presentation as you are – they’re really not the enemy – and the basis for a lot of your nerves will go away.

PS. The other thing to bear in mind is that the opposite to ‘nerves’ is ‘overconfidence’ – anyone who arrives at a venue without any trace of doubt that they’ll deliver something of value and precisely what the client wants is probably suffering more than a little arrogance. Let those remaining nerves spur you on to do better rather than hold you back and you should be fine.

Thanks Guy.

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About Guy Clapperton:

Guy Clapperton became a journalist in the technology press in 1989, going freelance in 1993. He started using early forms of social media almost immediately as his working network.

He contributed to many of the national press – still does – and started writing books in the early part of the 21st century. At around the same time he added media training to his offerings and in this way is a coach to several clients per month. He regularly speaks on the subject of social media, and media in it’s widest context. To find out more about Guy, please visit his website and blog