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Presenting live: The fear and how to cope with it

The fear of public speaking may have a geeky name (glossophobia), but the feelings you feel – those sweaty palms, roiling tummy & weak knees – even I’ve experienced strongly, are all too real. I’ve learned to overcome the nerves, with perseverance, and a few great tips about performing, from some of the best in the industry. Keen to tackle this fear & start towering in virtual meetings, with your amazing presenting skills? Read on…

Fear of Public Speaking is said to affects 75% of the world’s population – that means if you have it, you’re not alone! However, the way the world is steadily changing (pushed along significantly, by governments Covid-19 preventative measures), and due to the inexhaustible spirit of commerce, we are being encouraged to adjust, and do things professionally, like present live via virtual meetings.  One positive perspective to consider, about the changing business demands: Now, we are all presenters, doing it live in the virtual world.

Despite now maintaining a really rewarding career that includes gigs as a presenter, global MC, and radio host, I also had this presenting fear starting out. My mouth would go dry, my hands became sweaty, and I was close to tears – absolutely shaking with fear. Did you know: about 75% of all people rank public speaking as their #1 fear, followed by the fear of dying?

It took me years of practice, and finding a speaking coach to work with, which has resulted in my presenting success now. With the world going virtual, there are many people who are now finding themselves in an online world where they must present on-camera, to the board, teaching or selling to customers, or having to present at client meetings. This new aspect of some peoples jobs, is causing fear and anxiety – I know this because I was just asked to workshop a client who needs their team to overcome glossophobia, in order to start rolling out a new virtual concept they have.

So how do we overcome this (sometimes paralysing) fear of presenting?

  • Get a pro to teach you. As videoconferencing continues to grow more common, companies need to consider commissioning professional coaching to help employees overcome their fear of public speaking. If your company doesn’t offer training in public speaking, consider seeking it out on your own. If you’re totally uncomfortable with speaking on video — to the point where videoconferences are a speed bump instead of something that expedites progress, then try the next tip.
  • Practice meetings with family members or relatives. Start up your virtual meeting platform, and begin practicing with the software, the mute button, test microphone, and then touch base. Do this on your own at first, and then start a practice meeting with family members. This will help your confidence and comfort level grow. If you slip up, no one will judge you. It’s your moment to shine! Once you realize there’s really nothing to worry about, you can have a meeting with some more purpose. Go ahead and invite your team to have a brainstorming session.
  • Raise your confidence by looking as good as you want to feel. The other fear one might have, is about not looking good while on camera. In Hello Magazine, celebrated international designer Tom Ford offered up some great pieces of advice on presentation set-ups & dressing. He said that before joining a call (on Zoom, Skype etc.), you should put the computer up on a stack of books or a shelf, so that the camera is slightly higher than your head. Angles do wonders for boosting your appearance, as it were.

The award-winning 58-year old designer also advised us to manipulate light for these on-camera moments, by bringing a lamp to shine on you just enough to make you glow. And probably the oddest but effective tip from the Project Runway judging panellist? “…put a piece of white paper or a white tablecloth on the table you are sitting at but make sure it can’t be seen in the frame. It will give you a bit of fill and bounce.

In addition to just hoping that you grow more comfortable with the idea of seeing yourself on-screen over the course of several videoconferences, concentrate on what you can change. For many people, it starts with wardrobe. On the “no” list of professional virtual fashion: stripes and busy patterns, which even Tom Ford says don’t translate well to video. Instead, go with solid, neutral colours for your work armour. Style of dress may also be a concern — though, compared with their colleagues in the office, people who work from home are probably more likely to fret about what to wear. Ford states that in “many workplaces, that stigma [of working outside of the office] seems to have eroded, but if you’re worried about it, then dress up a bit for the meeting”.

  • Frame yourself with a good background and close those blinds! Whether you’re logging on from your office or your home, “make sure your window blinds are closed if it’s sunny,” emphasizes Tom Ford. “You don’t want the camera to blast out from the background light, leaving you as a shadow.”, and I’m inclined to agree. Frame yourself in a space where you appear clearly, mindful of messes and your family maybe walking about.

·      Look directly at your camera. Depending on the size of your screen and how far both you and your camera are from it, people will be able to tell the difference between you looking at your screen, and you looking at the camera. You naturally want to look at the person you’re talking to on the screen, but only by looking at the camera will you appear to be making eye contact from the other person’s point-of-view.

  • Move your screen farther away from you. The farther it is, the less you’ll have to move your iris away from the camera to see who you’re talking to. As a rule, if the screen you’re looking at is more than one meter (or roughly 3 feet) away from you, participants you talk to won’t even notice you’re not looking directly at the camera; This applies to all displays up to 27 inches diagonally. Larger displays might need a little more distance.
  • Treat the meeting like any day-to-day in-person meeting. Throw away the notion that you’re having a meeting that can make or break you. This is usually not the case. You’ll do fine if you just treat this like you’re going out for a coffee. If you’re acting like yourself, you don’t need an excessive amount of charisma to make a meeting work correctly – just sit back and talk. If it helps, have an outline on what you’ll be discussing if you’re expected to make a presentation.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give you, is to prepare enough for your meeting, that nerves become secondary to your knowledge. I have seen people achieve great presentations, despite having performance anxiety, because they were knowledgeable, or just passionate, about what they were talking about. I thoroughly enjoy Emceeing events across the world, hosting radio, presenting on television, and I really love what I do as a Global Branding Specialist. However, I actually use every tip here, plus one more, to overcome moments of performance anxiety that still creep up on me: I sit in a quiet corner for a moment, close my eyes, and just breathe deep.

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